Monday, December 12, 2011

Top 10 Reasons Why I Left the Church

I recently listened to a podcast on Mormon Expression that detailed the “Top 10 Reasons to Leave the Church.” It got me to thinking what my own reasons were to leave the LDS church. I've written the reasons below. I'm writing from thirty years ago. So the recollections may be pure fabrication. It's through a haze of memories, some of which were full of pain.

10. The congregational music was awful.

I was a convert to the LDS church. I was used to loud, rousing music from the pews. As a Methodist, I learned to sing forcefully the praises of my Lord. That just didn't cut it in the LDS wards in which I worshipped. It was really a shock to me that this church put so little stock into the singing of its music. Mormons don't even stand up when they sing! Over the years, this minor irritation became much larger. I would try to salve it by always singing in the choir. It seemed I was always the backup priesthood chorister. I could never convince the brethren to sing with any feeling at all. It gnawed at me the whole time I was a member in the LDS church.

9. The Sacrament Meeting liturgy was a joke.

The LDS church has a liturgy, but it is an overstatement to say that it is “low church.” Although the LDS church celebrates the sacrament every Sunday, it is not like the eucharist in the Roman Catholic or Anglican traditions. It is not even like Methodist Communion. The whole sacrament part of Sunday worship consists of two young men (usually) saying a prayer over the bread and the water(!), and passing the elements to the congregation. The whole thing seemed so prosaic. It took me years to learn to focus on the prayers and on the experience of the sacrament. And I have come to realize that the very ordinariness of the sacrament is its strength. We can find the body and blood of Jesus in the very midst of our lives. Thirty years ago, though, the sacrament was sometimes very difficult for me to get through.

8. LDS Church Standards often have nothing to do with morality.

The LDS Church has standards, some of which do concern morality, but many which do not. I did not have a lot of problem with standards relating to honesty, chastity, etc., but I had real issues with standards that related to appearance. I did not then, nor now, believe that wearing a white shirt, tie, and jacket improves my relationship with Heavenly Father. I have difficulty supporting modesty standards that punish women because of the way their dress affects the male sex (a better standard would be to inculcate the priesthood with its own modesty standard about how to relate to women appropriately).

A larger issue for me in the church was its orthopraxy, with its emphasis on right conduct. Although I kept the Word of Wisdom as a church member, I do not believe that God cares at all about alcohol, hot drinks, and tobacco. These were the only parts of the Word of Wisdom that seem to have traction with members. The rest of the advice (and it was advice) seems to be ignored. I guess the heart of this issue is I didn't believe that many of the practices of the LDS church had anything to do with enhancing or elevating my relationship with God and Jesus Christ.

7. The LDS church revises its history.

This is beginning to get to the meat of my disaffection with the LDS church. This church continually re-invents itself, and recasts its history. I don't object to the principle of continuing revelation. I do object to the erasing of history, the changing of “facts,” and the reinterpretation of the past that is at odds with contemporary historical records.

When I started studying the historical record around the First Vision, the translation of the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith's business activities, (this list could go on and on), it shook my testimony. Ultimately, I stayed in the LDS church for many years despite this knowledge because I realized that the mythic story of the founding of the Mormon religion happened in historic time. The fiddling, blemishes, embarrassments, and apologetics are simply part of the landscape of this religion. Still, I felt each new “discovery” I made was assaulting my integrity. Becoming a Mormon is not for the faint of heart.

6. Some doctrines of the LDS church are weird.

When I joined the LDS church, I knew that many of its doctrines were different than the Methodism I grew up with, but I was unprepared for the sheer sweep and amount of that difference. I was brought up in a Protestantism that provided a corrective to Catholic theology. The Mormons weren't out to correct Christianity. They were out to replace and reinvent it.

There is much in LDS theology that is familiar to converts from Christian denominations. There is also a steep learning curve. The LDS church doesn't talk much about blood atonement anymore. It disavows the Adam-God theory. It accepts men of African descent in its priesthood. Admittedly, these doctrines may be called outliers. The Mormon faith has mainstream doctrines that seem alien to outsiders, including an anthropomorphic God, a pre-existence of the soul before this life, what appears to outsiders as a conditional salvation, and a heaven with three separate kingdoms.

Practices that took some getting used to included doing baptisms and sealings for dead people so that the dead could have the same opportunities for salvation as the living. The notion of celestial marriage and exaltation, that is making the family links between the generations eternal in heaven was a little mind-blowing, which isn't to say that it's not beautiful or untrue. There's just nothing like it in other Christian denominations, and scant support for such a view of heaven in the traditional Christian scriptural canon.

Of course, in addition to the traditional canon of scripture, members of the LDS church believe the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price are also divine scripture from Heavenly Father. Twice each year, the LDS church leadership provides counsel at the church General Conference, and that counsel is regarded by most members as scripture. If you are a True Believing Mormon, you accept all of this. If you are the least bit skeptical, you will experience profound cognitive dissonance.

5. The members were burdened with guilt.

After I got over the initial flush of conversion (this took at least a couple of years), I noticed how guilt-ridden many saints seemed to be. This really depressed me. Many LDS church members are striving to be perfect, to live every law of the Gospel, to honor covenants that they have made at baptism and when they have gone through the rites in the temples. When members fall short, they are deeply and spiritually pained. There is a reason that the lectern on the stand in the front of the chapel has a box of Kleenex®.

Most members appear to have a very strong personal holiness code that they've developed and personalized over the years. The code is nuanced and tweaked every Sunday in every meeting. Members are always being exhorted to be obedient: to God, to the Holy Spirit, to the Prophet, to the Apostles, to their bishop, to their priesthood leaders. The road to perfection and exaltation is long, narrow, and difficult. The road to failure is much shorter and much wider. The pain Mormons feel from the guilt is real. Suffering runs deep.

4. The LDS church often pays lip service to the teachings of Jesus Christ.

When I was growing up, I heard a lot about Jesus at home. Jesus was a Methodist. Jesus loved us, and through grace he covered our shortcomings so that we could have joy in fulfilling God's will. I don't ever remember that religious duty was heavy. I didn't know about the “rules.” The only rules taught us kids were the Golden Rule and to love our God with all our heart, mind, and strength, and our neighbors as ourselves.

LDS church members talk about Jesus and his atonement, and the grace born out of his atonement, but it's a very different grace than what I had learned as a child. Mormon kids learn another scripture about grace, 2 Nephi 25:23.

“For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.”

That grace, to me, seemed like low-octane fuel.

In their meetings, members often quote their prophets, but they aren't as likely to preach from the New Testament gospels. I think some LDS church members distrust the Bible, because they are always reminding themselves of their Eighth Article of Faith

We believe the Bible to the the word of God, as far as it is translated correctly; we also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God.

It is my perception that church members regard the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants to be more trustworthy than the Bible because of this caveated correctness. Members can never be sure what parts of the Bible are translated correctly, with the express exception of those portions translated by the prophet, Joseph Smith. So the real story of New Testament grace is suspect. It doesn't get told in the same way. It gets trumped by other Mormon scriptures.

3. I'm gay, and I'm not broken.

Long before I joined the LDS church, I realized I was gay. I did not realize what an issue that would become in the LDS church. While I was attending college, I met another LDS student, and he and I became involved with each other. We talked to our bishops and stake presidents, and I got a phone call from the then-President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Spencer W. Kimball. To this day, I remember his gravelly voice, and him telling me that he had scheduled an interview for me with one of the church's general authorities. I talked with Elder Henry D. Taylor, and he promised me that if I got married, “it will solve your problem.”

Gay men should not get married to cure their homosexuality. And, to its credit, the LDS church no longer advises gay men to do that. However, because many such men have a well-developed personal holiness code from their church upbringing, and a desire to achieve exaltation in the highest degree of glory in the Celestial Kingdom, they go ahead and get married. In my own marriage my homosexuality was not as big an issue as my skepticism about the church doctrines. But I know that it was a tremendous strain on my wife, and I'm quite sure had we remained married long enough, the issue would have become magnified, especially if I had developed a relationship with another man.

My bishops knew that I was gay. My wife knew that I was gay. Some of my priesthood leaders knew that I was gay. Eventually it became a burden. They wanted me to change, and I refused. I did not believe I needed to be fixed.

2. I couldn't look an investigator in the eye and say, “Now do you understand why the church had to be restored?”

I was struggling with my lack of testimony, my skepticism. I really wanted to believe but my testimony simply wasn't there. I remember fasting and praying. It seemed to me like I was always fasting and praying, and still no testimony. My wife, my home teachers, my bishops would tell me that I simply wasn't fasting and praying hard enough. But years into the project, I realized, it was never going to happen. I resolved not to worry about it, to trust that God would take care of my lack of testimony. I would do my callings, exercise my priesthood, be a good father, a caring home teacher, a loving husband. I would get through it!

Then, I got called on a stake mission. I remember memorizing the discussions. I remember tracting. And I remember asking an investigator, “Now do you understand why the church had to be restored?” and not being able to look the investigator in the eye because I knew I had no testimony, that I would never have a testimony, and that I felt the LDS church was not true in the way that members believe it to be true. I was devastated. I immediately asked to be released.

1. God's love was completely conditional, and Christ's sacrifice ultimately didn't matter.

The “after all we can do” finally wore me down. I didn't have a testimony of the LDS church or its doctrines. I didn't feel God's love at all. The grace of Jesus seemed out of reach, even though I had experienced it, and knew that it was real. My life was outside Christ's atonement. No matter how much I fasted and prayed, I was gay and a skeptic without a testimony. I wanted the fullness of the gospel, and I knew I could never have it. I couldn't stay in the LDS church. I had to leave. Within a few weeks, I was excommunicated for apostasy.


Anonymous said...

I don't want to defend the LDS church, but many of these "reasons" are based on misunderstandings, personal preferences, misinterpretations, and the actions of individual members. I have seem most of these same behaviors in other religions too, they are not unique to the mormons. the LDS church has adjusted things over the years just like every other church has done. The baptists had separate congregations for blacks and white, the catholics held courts on hearasay for those who tried to leave the church then tortured them. In science we have to revise what was once understood as facts based on new findings, so why shouldn't churches. Don't like it if you wish, but if anyone wants to criticize any church or any organization, please keep it to the facts.

Apron Appeal said...

To anonymous....he did keep it the facts. He shared what he learned based on his experience. The issue I take with your comment is that the "fact" you speak of is only taking into account the doctrines taught when I think "fact" should also include how people live that teaching.