Tuesday, 10 January 2017

I was a Mormon

My parents converted to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints when I was two years old, so Mormon doctrine seemed as natural to me as all the other life lessons I would learn growing up. Learning about the prophet Joseph Smith and The Book of Mormon was just as normal for me as learning about gravity. What goes up must come down, and that is exactly what happened to my faith.

Before I begin, I should tell you that I have now officially left the LDS church by having my name removed from its records. Prior to this I had been inactive for about six years, although during that time I was still battling with my feelings about the Church. For twenty-seven years of my life I was an active member. I went through primary, the youth system, the young adult system, I graduated from Seminary, I held numerous callings, I served as a missionary, and I was married in the temple, so I know the religion inside and out. In fact I know it so well that this honest account of my personal experience with the Church will not be classed as free speech, but as anti-Mormon literature. I will be classed as apostate and making my reservations for a hot retreat in the afterlife. Touchy right? Back then I would not have dreamed in a million years that I would be someone criticising Mormonism, yet here I am. The reason I am doing this is because I have been holding on to a lot of anger and this is my way of getting that out of my system so that I can finally have closure and move on. I thought about just hammering all this out on my keyboard and not letting anyone else see it. After all, I do not want to cause offence to members of the Church, some of whom are still my friends. I’m not trying to lead anyone else astray either, but the fact is the Church and its indoctrination impacted my life in a negative way, and so I make no apologies for illustrating just how it did that. Maybe others have had similar experiences, or maybe this will help someone else already battling with the process of unravelling its heavy chains. I want my parents to know that I don’t blame them at all for raising me in the Church. Fortunately for me, they were not militant or overly strict religious parents, but they believed they were doing the right thing after being indoctrinated themselves. I suppose the buck stops at the organisation itself, not those who fell under its powerful delusion.

Growing up as a Mormon can be extremely difficult for children leaving the safety of home life and church circles when starting school. I was lucky because I seemed to blend in well enough and although my friends knew I went to church for three hours every Sunday, I don’t think I came across as too peculiar. When I started secondary school I stood out a little more because people caught on that I didn’t drink tea, coffee or alcohol. They knew it was for religious reasons and I was lucky that it didn’t really cause me many awkward situations. My close school friends didn’t really drink either, so it was quite easy to not feel abnormal. My brother wasn’t as fortunate. He really took on-board being told as a primary child to tell all his school friends his beliefs and invite them to church on Sunday, as if such missionary efforts would then convert his infant friends, then their parents, and then a whole new family would be members of the Church! As expected none of them came to Church, instead my brother became a target and was bullied until he was finally forced to leave school. I suppose my point here is to highlight how early children are taught to be missionary minded. If you were to attend a testimony meeting you will most likely see little kids standing at the pulpit saying, “I know the Church is true. I know Joseph Smith was a prophet, I know Jesus died for me”. The same kids who believe in Santa Claus and the tooth fairy. It may seem harmless to members, but is this not early brainwashing?  The Church even teaches that if you want to gain a testimony, you should bear it. Isn’t that a nice little affirmation to help re-wire your mind?

It’s difficult to really say when I gained my own personal testimony of what I thought back then was the truthfulness of the Church. My teenage life was pretty busy with church routine. Most mornings before school I would get up really early to attend a seminary class, which is basically a scripture study group. We were also encouraged to have a personal scripture study session every morning too, so I was pretty drained before I even got to school. Monday evening we had Family Home Evening, which for those of you that aren’t aware is a time for family prayer, scripture study, followed by a fun activity. Tuesday evening was a youth activity night, and on Sunday, three hours of church, and sometimes an evening fireside or devotional. If you aren’t a Church member all that sounds pretty intense, and it was, but there are positives I can draw from it too. We did grow very close as a family during Home Evenings, and I was able to do some fun and interesting activities during youth activity nights. It was also a good chance to see my best friends, who to this day remain my best friends. (They are all ‘inactive’ now). There were additional responsibilities too, such as the various meetings we needed to attend depending on what church calling we had. Home Teaching was another duty, where once a month we would visit families assigned to us and share a spiritual message and attend to any needs they might have. I bonded with some of these families and it was nice being able to serve them when they needed some help, so I’m not criticising this particular practice, I’m just pointing out how immersed my life was in church culture. Again, I was raised in the church, so the lifestyle was natural for me; it wasn’t until I reached the age of fourteen or fifteen that I began to have struggles with it.

I’m going to use sex words in this next part, so if you’re easily offended then maybe go and put the kettle on and have a hot chocolate if you’re a Mormon or a coffee if you’re not, and come back for the next part while I continue my rambling. Or don’t. Use your free agency.

Being a teenager in the Church, well, it’s hard. (No pun intended). Before I go down this road I want to preface it with how I viewed myself at this time: I was a priesthood holder of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the only true church, it boldly claims, on the face of the whole earth. I was a valiant spirit in the pre-earth life because I had been born (well I was two, but let’s not ruin this mantra) into a Mormon family. If I believed what the Church leaders were saying at the time, and I did, I truly was one of the elect. I was privately self-important and arrogant like the rest of my peers, thinking I was one of the chosen ones. Not even the Queen could bless the sacrament on a Sunday or call angels down to minister, but I could. My poor non-valiant non-member friends, don’t worry I’ll pray for you and try and save your souls with conversion.

Seriously though, at age fifteen I felt a massive weight on my young shoulders. Things were getting more intense for me now. I really believed I had to stay clean, pure and worthy, so that I could start preparing to serve a two year mission when I reached the age of nineteen. I wanted to reach the highest degree of Heaven, Exaltation in the Celestial Kingdom, where it is promised that I can be with my family for time and all eternity. Let’s not forget that if I wanted to be blessed with an eternal companion, I had better stay pure, clean and worthy, words I would hear time and time again in my lessons as a young man. I had to learn obedience. I had to always have the spirit with me and not offend the Holy Ghost or I’d be unworthy, unclean, and shameful. My vice, (which is now my pleasure) back then was music. I loved rap, punk and heavy metal, but the lyrics were not ‘conducive to the spirit’ so I would throw them out in the trash. I would watch a film and if it had swearing or sex in I’d either stop watching or if I did stick with it I’d spend the night praying for forgiveness and asking that the spirit would return to me. It was promised that the Holy Ghost would be my constant companion unless I caused offence. Come back to me, I’m sorry. I know I shouldn’t have watched that or listened to that. I’ll throw it out to prove how sorry I am. Even if I swore I’d feel guilty! Then there are the sins of omission. If I didn’t read my scriptures for ten minutes that day, I’d start feeling like I’m drifting out of the light. There are so many things I could list but what I want to concentrate on now was the real burden that hung around my neck like a milestone – being a teenage boy with sexual urges.

I’ve had many discussions with my church raised friends over the years about how horrible the guilt was for us all when we ‘slipped up’. At school I was taught that masturbation was a natural act. At home, well who the hell wants to talk to their parents about that?  I didn’t and I wouldn’t have if they had tried, so that left Church for me, which after all was the most important stance anyway, because... Heaven.

I was never taught that it was a sin by any of my local leaders, until it was too late. Church books educated me that it was sinful and shameful, and it was confirmed for me during a confession session with a Bishop. I don’t know if the Church has updated its information on it, and quite frankly I don’t care if they have because it didn’t help us back then when it was classed as a carnal sin that needed repenting of. My friends and I spent years feeling guilty because we all had to stay clean enough so that we could pass or bless the sacrament on a Sunday. One Bishop told us to imagine the nails being smashed into Christ’s hands as a pleasant little aid to help us concentrate on staying worthy. One book, backed up by scripture, informed me that when we masturbate, demons watch, laugh and mock us for it. So you spend however long you can resisting the urge, which in itself makes you the most frustrated stressed out ‘stop tempting me Satan!’ individual in town, then you give in because it’s near impossible, to be left feeling like the hosts of hell are surrounding you. It’s creepy and plays tricks with your mind, so I would spend the rest of the night reading scripture and praying desperately for forgiveness. I would ask that the spirit return, that the demons would be cast out, I would feel sick and beg for mercy and forgiveness, promising to change, promising to see the Bishop about it. Let me tell you, it’s quite degrading to sit opposite a Bishop and tell him you’ve been beating yours. To be fair to my Bishops, they didn’t really seem to want to know or care, and kind of just shooed me along. They knew it was inevitable. They could relate.  

No sex before marriage. That was set in stone. I knew that. The other stuff was a grey area for me and my friends. Again, it wasn’t until it was too late that we were told, ‘Uh oh! That’s all serious sin too. Phone the Bishop’.  We all tried our best growing up, but sometimes we fell short of what the Church demanded. However I guarantee you that we paid the price for it and then some. The guilt caused genuine suffering. We couldn’t even admit it to each other. It was embarrassing and humiliating to sit across from a Bishop and explain what you had done. It was heart wrenching to feel like you had disappointed God, caused Christ to suffer in Gethsemane, and lost the companionship of the Holy Ghost. You felt abandoned, alone, unclean, immoral and wretched. You felt unworthy to carry out Church duties. If you were asked to give a talk in church, teach a lesson, or assist in giving a blessing, you felt panic, because you need the spirit for those things. I think life for any teenager is challenging enough without the tremendous amount of unnecessary guilt and shame heaped on them for what I now believe to be normal and natural experiences. The Church teaches that through repentance you find forgiveness, so at times I did feel forgiven, but the constant cycle of sin- repent- confesses-forgiven, was emotionally exhausting. I wish I could have just been permitted to explore and experience natural behaviours like most people do and not punish myself for them.

When I was eighteen I was given the Melchizedek priesthood, which added more responsibility.  At the time I felt it was a great honour and a privilege, despite being told that I’d be held accountable in the next life if I didn’t receive it, and that ‘... whoso breaketh this covenant after he hath received it, and altogether turneth therefrom, shall not have forgiveness of sins in this world nor in the world to come’. (Doctrine and Covenants 84:81) Damned if I do, damned if I don’t. Damn it! I’m officially damned.

I spent this whole year being as righteous and proactive as I possibly could. I was preparing for a two year mission as an Elder of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I broke up with my girlfriend at the time and I started attending seminary classes even though I had already graduated. I would even knock doors in town with a friend to preach the gospel. I gave a presentation at college about the Church and my mission. I gave all my friends copies of The Book of Mormon. I visited families, gave tons of talks at Church, taught lessons, and spent most of my time listening to Church talk tapes and reading Mormon literature. I did my damned best to stay as worthy and as pure as I possibly could. I threw out more CDs and stopped watching anything deemed inappropriate by the Church. I even cut out television completely for awhile to really focus on my scripture study and meditation. As well as studying at college I was also working retail jobs to contribute money towards my mission.  I’m not meaning to sound arrogant here, but I really felt like I could not have been any more prepared for my mission. I was well versed in Mormon doctrine, I knew the scriptures well, and I was confident in my ability of bringing souls to Christ.

I was nineteen years old when my mission call arrived in the post. I was called to serve in Roseville, California for two years. I spent Christmas with my family and then the following month I was off.

My Bishop at the time was a lovely, kind-hearted and wise man, whom had really helped me prepare for my new adventure. To this day I will not speak a bad word about him because he really is one of the best people I’ve had the pleasure of knowing, despite our now opposing beliefs. There are wonderful and sincere people in the Church and my Bishop was one of the best examples. Another man I really valued was my Stake President, a warm and gentle man. He set me apart as a missionary, and the next thing I knew I was on a plane to America. It was horrendous saying goodbye to my family. We were all upset at the airport and it felt gloomy. My only contact to them for two years would be by letter, which I was allowed to write once a week. This was the first time I had been on an aeroplane.

My first stop was Provo, Utah, where I would attend the Missionary Training Centre for three weeks before going out to California. I expected a spiritual feast at the MTC, but I was left starving. I was assigned an MTC companion and given an ugly, bland, basic room, which we shared with two other missionaries. They were all from Utah, the Mormon capital. They were nice enough guys, but I soon learnt my companion was having masturbation problems and needing to see the MTC president. I felt fed up. No one seemed like they wanted to be there. I genuinely wanted to serve and teach people the gospel, but they felt like they had to be there for their families. One guy even said that girls wouldn’t date him unless he went on a mission. This is another bugbear for me. We were taught that it was a commandment to serve a mission, and the young women are taught that they deserve nothing less than a returned missionary for a husband. Don’t you worry about who people really are, or who you fall in love with, just make sure they tick all the Mormon boxes.  

I assumed everyone would be buzzing in the MTC, but I found the atmosphere depressing. The only time my roommates seemed happy was when playing pranks on each other. We would get up at the crack of dawn, go and share a shower with a bunch of other strange naked dudes, and come back to our room for scripture study. The whole day would be filled with classes hammering home the need for obedience. I was used to teaching people from the heart and the scriptures, but now we had to learn scripts and sales techniques. I saw some people in tears because they were struggling with it and others half asleep. It felt so forced being told to share our testimonies with each other in the cold light of day. The class was just full of the same old phrases and mantras, nothing was heartfelt or sincere. I can’t recall much else about the classes anymore. All I remember is the word ‘obedience!’

I liked everyone in my class, but there was blatant ignorance among some of them. I think it was during our second week in the MTC that a few of them were questioning why they weren’t feeling the spirit. One of them chirped up with, ‘Well, my parents told me that because we live in Utah we are so used to feeling the spirit that we are immune to it now’. They all nodded in agreement, feeling pleased with that.

My one saving grace in the MTC was a Canadian missionary in my class. (He has also left the church now). We instantly bonded and had a lot in common. He too was feeling the Utah culture shock. The Church wasn’t really like this back home was it?

One day of the week we were allowed to wear casual clothes, catch up on laundry and exercise. I remember putting on a Greenday hoodie that my brother had given me as a leaving gift. Nothing was on it apart from the band and its name. I was off to play basketball but was stopped. ‘Elder Yeoman, that isn’t appropriate for a missionary to be wearing’. Sorry mate, but they don’t have BYU hoodies back in England. On my suit I wore a small pin badge which had the Union Jack and the American flag on. I was stopped in a hallway by an MTC leader and told to remove it because it ‘detracts from the message’. Maybe this all sounds petty to you, but it was these little things that really started to grind on me, stripping away any personal identity I had, and making me a Utah robot.

I felt nothing spiritual in the MTC or the Provo Temple sessions. I felt homesick and deflated. My letters home just read like brainwashed affirmations.

After three weeks of robot school, I travelled to Roseville California where I met my new mission companion, another young lad from Utah. We lived above a garage on a member’s property. It was a nice enough room and my companion was a decent type.
I think I was a couple of weeks into the mission when I suffered my first panic attack. I remember being in the shower finding it hard to catch my breath, and I started freaking out. My heart was pounding and adrenaline coursed through my veins. I felt so much dread and fear, I just wanted to run. I know now this was the fight or flight scenario, but I didn’t know what a panic attack was at the time. I assumed Satan was attacking me, trying to stop me from serving the Lord, so I kept repressing it and hiding it away. I’d go to bed begging God to rescue me from what was happening. A God of miracles could surely stop this happening to me, right? The panic attacks kept coming. What is happening? I’m an ordained missionary, so why does the phone line to Heaven seem off the hook?

I had never felt so isolated. I was so far away from home and my family. The letters arrived so late due to airmail that we were never up to speed with each other. Even God had apparently abandoned me, so try as I might to fight; the only logical solution for me was flight. I was a pale, shaken up, nervous wreck, which meant I was a burden to my companion and ineffective in the mission field. I talked to my companion and then my mission president about what was happening and that’s when the first piece of advice came in. Spend the day getting a nice milkshake at a local diner. Wow, this must be some milkshake! I wonder if they prescribe it on the NHS? Meanwhile my parents were being told to not write to me, nor take my phone calls. Anyway, my mission president was right- a nice break from riding my bike all day and knocking doors, did allow me a moment to gather my thoughts together. My companion was a great guy too, and I agreed not to be hasty and give the missionary work another try. I was still getting doors slammed in my face, still teaching people about the Church, and trying my best, but the panic attacks would not relent. I was physically and emotionally exhausted. I couldn’t even sit in a Church meeting on a Sunday without walking out feeling despair. Try as I might, I just couldn’t get my thoughts together. I was sick of shaking, I was sick of feeling dread, and I was sick of pleading to God for help. All I wanted to do was escape.

I wanted to call home, but I needed permission because it was against mission rules. Then I had to find out the country code and after some frustrating attempts, I eventually got through to my dad and told him what was happening. He knew what panic attacks were because he suffered, and still does suffer with them. At least now I had a name for what was happening to me. It wasn’t the Devil after all? I told my mission president that it wasn’t the Adversary or homesickness, it was panic attacks, and I needed help.

I was so stressed out during this period of time that I can’t remember the order of events. It’s just one big anxiety ridden blur to me even now. What I do know though is that I again told my dad, companion, and mission president that I wanted to stay and try and serve. I did try again and then quickly failed. Another batch of attacks had finished me off and all I knew was that I was done and I wanted to go home. During this time I was sat down by a local Bishop and the ward mission leader after they heard that I was leaving the mission field. The conversation is a blur to me, but I remember it feeling like an interrogation where two grown men, who ought to know better, told an ill nineteen year old boy that he had best hope that his plane doesn’t go down on the way home in case he ends up in hell. Don’t worry though, my awesome stake president from England would phone me later and boost me up. Actually scrap that. He told me that if I came home I would be ‘letting my family down, my ward down, and my stake down’. It was heartbreaking to hear that from a man I had respected and looked up to as a spiritual leader. If only I knew then what I know now, that he was cheating on his wife at the time and abusing his calling as stake president, maybe then I wouldn’t have cared what his opinion was. I vaguely remember talking to my home ward Bishop who was one of the few people that showed me any understanding. 

I spent my last day with a bunch of missionaries who were silently judging me for leaving. So long, Roseville!  I really appreciate your well wishes and compassion.
I got a flight to San Francisco on my own and then flew to Utah where I would meet my dad at the airport. We would be staying with the missionary who baptised my parents and his family while I would get some ‘care’. At this point I had to play along with the notion that I wasn’t going home to England, I was just going back to Utah to get treatment and then return to the mission field. They assumed a little time with my dad would do the trick.

In Utah I got off the plane and had to walk through a bunch of Mormon families greeting their returned missionaries with banners and welcome home signs. What a happy affair! I don’t think I have ever felt so embarrassed and ashamed in all my life as I walked through that crowd and over to my worried looking dad. He said I looked deathly white and frail, while I wished the ground would just open up and swallow me whole.

I don’t even know how long we stayed in Utah for. It felt like a year, but was probably a few months. My dad was getting pressure to convince me to return to Roseville, while I was seeing a local church councillor for my panic attacks. By then the Holy Ghost was like a long lost friend. Anxiety was now my constant companion. I felt highly strung, always on the verge of a breakdown, and depression set in. I was so desperate to just go home that I stopped caring who I was letting down. I knew I was definitely finished with being a missionary because someone asked me if I’d go back to Roseville if an angel appeared to me and commanded me to. I replied that I felt so sick that I would have to say no.

The Church couldn’t bear the thought of me just resting in a house during the day, so it decided to tell me to go and work in a Church canning factory. My dad out rightly refused. ‘Do you know who you’re talking to? I’m a relative of the prophet Wilford Woodruff!’ said the voice on the phone. ‘I don’t care if you’re the Pope!’ Dad retorted, and hung up on him.

I was put on medication and had a few sessions with a church psychologist, neither of which helped me. I ended up on a drug that made me feel numb and disconnected. I later learned this drug was heavily linked to suicides. When I first arrived in the States I was given a cocktail of different injections which I apparently needed. Some people think this may have caused a chemical imbalance in me which resulted in panic attacks. I haven’t really looked into it enough to draw a conclusion. The fact is I was having them then and I still am sixteen years later.

Sometime during the anxiety blur I stormed out of the house we were staying at after an argument, probably with someone who was trying to get me to go back out to California. One of the daughters of the family we were staying with followed me out, calmed me down, took my hand and walked me back. This innocent little act was spotted by a nosey Mormon neighbour and reported to the Church.

The Church’s final attempt to get me to change my mind about leaving was by setting up a meeting with a General Authority, whom they discovered I admired and looked up to. I went to his office in Salt Lake City where he interviewed me.

This particular Church leader was a real inspiration to me. Before my mission I had read several of his books and listened to many of his talks, so I was quite pleased to have the opportunity to meet him, despite my desperate to flee state of mind.
I had hoped to be uplifted, or at least understood, but I found myself in a confessional situation. First of all I was chastised for holding a girl’s hand. After that he didn’t accept a medical reason for my problem, but treated it as a spiritual issue. I was asked if I had any unresolved sins that I needed to repent of. I told him that I hadn’t, but that wasn’t good enough. He continued to probe, so I had to mention that I had sinned in the past but that I had repented of them correctly with my Bishop back home. Apparently that answer wasn’t adequate because he asked me what those sins were. It’s a bit embarrassing having to confess your sexual experiences to someone you had put on a pedestal. I wanted him to think highly of me, but instead I was going over what the Church would call my sinful acts. This was totally irrelevant and I’m still wondering why I needed to repeat them after saying that I had sorted all that out long before my mission. Well, he must have drawn a blank to why I wasn’t coping on a mission because I was then asked if I was homosexual. The meeting left me cold. He gave me a blessing before I left his office but it was as insightful as a brick. The only thing I did agree with him on was that I needed to go home. I never could pick up one of his books again.

Maybe you’re wondering why my dad and I didn’t just leave and fly home ourselves? The reason for that is the Church was holding on to my passport and for awhile we couldn’t get it back. I believe they wanted me to return to California and it wasn’t until my dad threatened that he would go to the press about it that they reluctantly handed it over.

Before we returned to the UK, the missionary that baptised my parents kindly tried to cheer us up by taking us to some amazing places. I was really grateful for that and I feel sorry that I wasn’t in a state of mind to really enjoy them. We left the snow-capped mountains of Utah and visited the Hoover Dam, Arizona, the Grand Canyon, and stayed a couple of nights in Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas. Incredible places, but I just wanted to be home.

It was immensely frustrating trying to convince the Church that I wasn’t going to be a missionary anymore. In my mind I was done. I wasn’t sleeping and I was close to breaking point. My Dad and a member of the local stake presidency supported my decision to leave. With the latter’s aid it was finally set up for us to leave.
I remember the relief I felt as the plane left the tarmac and I was finally in the air above Utah. I sobbed like a child.

Are you all playing your violins for me? I know this may come across really pathetic in the grand scheme of things, but it’s all relative. This was a big deal for me. The spiritual stress took its toll. I’d been at the heart of my religion and it was nothing like I had imagined or been led to believe. All the leaders I spoke to kept saying, ‘Don’t you go inactive now. Go home and get better and come back’. I tried going back to my local ward when I was back in England, but it was too hard. Rumours about my return started to circulate. I heard one person say that I was just homesick, that my family was too close and it was unhealthy. Someone else decided that I had probably had a relationship with one of the daughters that we were staying with and so I was sent home dishonourably. The fact is I received an honourable release from the Church, but I couldn’t attend it anymore.

I started seeing a non-Church psychologist and I was still taking the drugs which caused me more harm than good.  He confirmed that I had indeed had a breakdown. I was numb and I knew I wasn’t myself anymore. I left the church but I still believed in all of its teachings. I found it hard to fit in to normal life again but when I did start socialising and going out with friends I met someone who I had a nine month relationship with. When time had passed and we broke up I started to come back out to church, but a new Bishop had been called by then and I found myself put on church disciplinary probation. I was on it for far too long, and treated unfairly considering what I had been put through. It took the Stake President to finally release me from it. He even told me I had been on it for too long and enough was enough. The Bishop said the spirit had told him to take me off it, which I knew wasn’t quite true. One Sunday I was outside of church rather than in a lesson with a few of my friends, just talking. A sister of one of my closest friends was talking with us. She was a lot younger than us and someone I had babysat many times over the years because our families were close friends. The Bishop pulled me in and angrily suggested that I was being inappropriate considering I was on probation. He made out like I was on a sex offenders list and I couldn’t be trusted. What an ugly assumption and a horrendous insult.

The Church never felt the same for me ever again, but after some time I got myself into a position where I was doing all it was asking and trying to ease back into its spirituality. As time passed, I baptised my new girlfriend into the Church and we were later married in the London Temple.

Members argue that the Church is perfect, but its people aren’t. Some have suggested to me that it was imperfect people handling things badly that caused me more stress, but even if that were the case I find it disturbing that people are allowed to be put into influential positions which can cause a lot of damage. People are given life advice, marriage advice and counsel by leaders that aren’t trained or qualified to do so. It is widely believed that when someone is called to an office it comes direct from God and so when they speak you should take it as sound advice from the spirit. They are taught not to question or criticise its leaders. They are basically told to obey and not to question. How dangerous is that? I knew all this was nonsense but my testimony in the Church allowed me to shrug it off. The indoctrination was so ingrained in me that despite my mission experience I still wouldn’t speak out against its leaders.

My faith was smashed to pieces when my wife miscarried. Since I was eighteen years old I had been giving members priesthood blessings. The Church teaches that if you are worthy and spiritually in tune then you can bless people through the guidance of the spirit. I always felt good doing it, but then that’s because I’m placing positive affirmations on people which is naturally uplifting. I felt very experienced in this area. I thought I knew when the spirit was with me and I spoke as I felt directed. When my wife was pregnant I was giving her blessings which talked about our baby and how it would be healthy and well. I was convinced our baby was going to be a boy and I blessed my wife and child with all the love that I felt.

When my wife and I went to our first scan at the hospital expecting to see our baby, the screen was black. We were told that there was no heartbeat. We were informed when she had miscarried, so all of those feelings and blessings just couldn’t be true. I was blessing a baby that was already gone. So what were all those feelings and assurances I felt? Now I know it was nothing more than my own desires and wishes. It shook my faith and I never gave another blessing to anyone again. I have never accepted a blessing from anyone else either. I had lost my faith in blessings but I still had faith in prayer. So I prayed that my wife would be comforted and helped through this heartbreaking time. She wasn’t comforted or helped because she ended up going through an agonising miscarriage as her body passed the pregnancy sack. She was in hospital twice in horrendous physical pain until it all finally passed. We didn’t have time then to deal with the emotional grief, which came later.

The same week that she was released from hospital she had a Church member visit. She was told that even though she had miscarried it was her duty to procreate, so to try again. A few weeks later when my wife wasn’t coping well the same person told her to not look back anymore. ‘Look what happened to Lot’s wife when she looked back, she was turned into a pillar of salt’. This is just typical of the harmful damage people can do when they feel like they are acting with the spirit. I was told our baby was too precious for earth so that’s why we miscarried. None of this provided us with any sort of comfort. We continued to try for a baby but it just wasn’t happening for us. The next piece of advice given to us was that we needed to come back to church and put ourselves in a position for God to bless us. Oh, so it’s our fault for not conceiving now is it? We aren’t attending church so we aren’t going to be blessed. How do they really believe that logic?

The truth is we couldn’t attend a church where everyone else seemed to be falling pregnant or hearing all about how we need to raise families up unto the Lord. The Mormon Church is very much family focused and we felt beaten over the head with it during lessons, talks, and every time someone tried to put a spiritual band aid on our miscarriage. Anytime members can’t answer a difficult question I hear some cheap tagline like, ‘God works in mysterious ways’. That isn’t good enough for me anymore.
Since then we have been inactive from the Church for about six years. It really took me stepping well away from it so see it for what it is. I don’t see anything that it claims to be anymore. I see control, indoctrination, and arrogance. It’s taken me a long time to really undo its grasp on me. I was thirty years old when I had my first proper alcoholic drink, and even then I felt a slight twinge of guilt. I quickly shook it off because I realised how infantile it is to be made to feel like a naughty child when I’m a grown man. Since that time I have had to recondition my brain to be free thinking. I no longer give the Church’s opinion on certain matters like I used to, I give my own.

The process of untangling its sticky web wasn’t an easy one. It took time to eradicate its guilt which would creep up on me unexpectedly as I changed my lifestyle. It was also hard accepting that I no longer had the comfort of being one of the elect, chosen to hold the priesthood and sealed to my family for time and all eternity. I don’t rely on prayer or blessings when things go wrong anymore. I don’t even have faith in an afterlife, which was perhaps the hardest pill to swallow. I feel like I’ve been told that all my friends were imaginary, and I’ve only just realised that I’m on my own.

I don’t know anything for sure, but never again will I allow myself to be tricked into religion or take people’s feelings and testimonies as truth or fact. Most members will say ‘I know it’s true, rather than I believe it’s true’. I don’t know it and I don’t believe it anymore. All I trust now is what I actually know for sure. I’m done relying on my gut to think for me, now I use my brain and seek actual evidence. It’s not as bleak as I first thought either. There is a wonderful beauty knowing that we, against all the odds are living here on planet earth in a beautiful vast, wondrous universe. Maybe we all just have to find our own meanings and purposes in life.

Even if God does exist, would a supreme being really be easily offended by petty little earth activities when children are starving in a world of corruption and injustice? Do you really think a god cares what a teenager or anyone else for that matter gets up to in the privacy of their bedrooms? Does a supreme being care if I wear a Greenday Hoodie or listen to Metallica? Does God frown down at me when I have a cup of coffee? Does God really answer the prayers of privileged Mormon kids that have lost their car keys, while ignoring starving children in the world? If God loves us all beyond imagination and is full of mercy then won’t we all be saved in the next world anyway? None of it makes much sense to me anymore. Right now I’m just accepting life for what it is and I’ll live it however I choose to live it because as far as anyone knows, we are only here once.

A recent talk by a Mormon apostle asked the following question: ‘If you choose to become inactive or to leave the restored Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, where will you go? What will you do?’  Well, I have chosen to leave the Church and I will go wherever my free thinking mind wants to go, and do whatever my free thinking mind wants to do.

I can’t tell you how liberating it feels to have the weight of Mormonism lifted from my shoulders now that I have left its clutches. I live my life for myself and not for the Church. I no longer feel its guilt, I no longer feel shame or unworthy, and I no longer have to feel uncomfortable about its sexist and homophobic views, because they no longer represent me.

Now that my name has been removed from its records I can also speak freely about my experiences in the Church without it invoking disciplinary action against me. When it was confirmed that my name was removed I had a few minutes where I felt solemn. I had invested so much time and energy into it over the years and it really was a way of life for me. Now I had undone everything. Again, this shows how deeply rooted this religion embedded itself into me. When I realised this I finally felt like a leaf on the wind. I was free.

Some members say to me, ‘you’re still a good person though’, like morality is only exclusive to Mormons. If anything I am a better person today because I’m not judgemental and I’m far more accepting of alternative lifestyles and people. I know that the Church will view me as lost, or apostate, or the nicer members will be worried about my salvation. That reality only exists in their minds though. Just because that’s what they believe does not make it true. It’s impossible for them to see any other view unless they break out of the delusion and reevaluate it with fresh eyes. Most of my true friends left the Church for their own reasons. People that gossiped about me or treated my family like crap over the years are still going out feeling better than everyone else. This fact alone speaks volumes to me. Of course not all the members are like that. I know there are genuinely great people in the Church who do a lot of good and are living happy, fulfilled lives. I don’t wish to offend them or insult their beliefs, but I also feel the need to express how Mormonism has affected my life because it clearly has. I feel like I was hoodwinked for so many years and I will never get that time back.
Whether I have succeeded or not, I’ve tried my best to focus only on some of my own personal experiences with the Church rather than critiquing its doctrines and the organisation as a whole. I hope my Church friends won’t be too offended and I hope my non-Church friends won’t find all of this too insane.

I’m thirty-five years old now and I still have dreams that I’m back on a mission, trying to be obedient and trying desperately to get home.


3 comments:

  1. Chris...I read all of this and it is a thoughtful, sometimes scary but ultimately liberating account. It is part of the story of your search for freedom. I have empathy for you...I belong to the School of Economic Science which has had it's own cult criticisms in the past, and I would leave immediately if I felt it had become a domineering force in my life. Life is about freedom, so kick back, buy yourself a Harley and go on a road trip with your SOA teeshirts on. Take care Chris.Regards Simon Ward PS I still have Geoffrey Wellum's book with the signed bookplate

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  2. I've come here via the star wars post and just wanted to thank you for such an honest and Frank account of your experiences. I'm not part of any religion and often find the actions of those around me who are confusing and apparently contrary. But I'm gradually understanding more through reading experiences like this. So again. Thank you.

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  3. Ive read your personal essay. It was a moving read. Youve gone through a lot of human shite and come out the other side. Thank you for telling your story of personal integrity. May you keep journeying well from here.

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