I had my husband write this part of the story from his point of view
Why I Left
I was a good kid. I did my best to follow the commandments and live up to what was expected of me. I truly believed that the church was true. But I never knew it. This always bothered me deeply, because I was supposed to know it. Every Fast and Testimony meeting, people would rise to the stand and proclaim that they absolutely know that the church is true. I would never bear testimony, because I had not been given that knowledge.
The church promises that you can know the truth if you pray sincerely. Moroni’s Promise is that if you pray with a sincere heart, real intent, and having faith in Christ, you could know that the Book of Mormon is true. I tried this many times and felt nothing. I did not doubt the Book of Mormon. Instead I doubted myself. Is my heart sincere? Is my intent real? How can I show my faith in Christ enough to receive an answer?
Sometimes I would pray, and continue to kneel quietly, soaking in the silence and searching for a feeling inside myself that I could attribute to the Spirit. Sometimes I would convince myself for a little while, but I knew that I was just looking for something, anything to convince myself. And it wasn’t convincing.
I constantly beat myself up for not being good enough. I scrutinized everything I did because if I were truly good enough, I would have received a knowledge. I greatly feared death, and did not expect to make it to the Celestial Kingdom. Everyone would tell me about God’s love and mercy, but if I wasn’t good enough to receive an answer to my most fervent prayer, I did not believe I was good enough to make it to Heaven. I was much harder on myself than on other people. For them, God would show mercy. For me, clearly He expected more faith. Perhaps He was preparing me for something, and this darkness would eventually be for my good?
As was expected of me, I served a mission. I was absolutely terrified, because I had intense social anxiety. But if anything would prove my faith in Christ, it would be this — to face one of my greatest fears. So I went, and it was very difficult for me. My social anxiety was rooted in a fear of rejection, and missionary service was my “Room 101”. In the MTC I was required to perform what was essentially telemarketing. I would make phone calls for several hours at a time to try to convince people to see the missionaries. This was my first exposure to that level of hostility. I left my station and broke down and cried in the bathroom after a few hours of this. I beat myself up for my weakness and went back out there only because I needed a testimony.
I spent two years trying to get it. I read through all the required reading twice, and memorized all the scriptures and discussions. I confided in my mission president that I was uncomfortable saying “I know,” even though it was expected of me. His advice to me was Elder Packer’s quote, “A testimony is to be found in the bearing of it.” I tried this once or twice, but it felt dirty to me. Such a testimony was a lie. I did not know, and saying that I did was dishonest to the person I was teaching, and was dishonest to myself.
At one time I had convinced myself that I really did know. I was teaching about Joseph Smith and felt a tingly feeling through my body. I latched onto this as being the Spirit, and that I finally knew. But the more I thought about it over the weeks, the less convincing it was. The tingly feeling was an emotional response. I felt it when listening to certain music, or during certain emotional scenes in movies. But that didn’t make the movies true. I later learned that this was not a Mormon-specific experience, and the tingling sensation is called frisson. But even if it were a unique experience, what does a body tingle really mean? There’s a huge leap from “I felt a tingly sensation while telling a story” to “that story is definitely true, and the tinglies were sent by Jesus to verify it.” I do not claim to understand my own mind well enough to attribute anomalies to deity. I still wouldn’t say that I knew.
The Book of Mormon warns against seeking signs. Those that did would be cursed or killed. On my mission was when I stopped worrying about that. I would ask for signs. I would be happy to be disabled or killed if I knew without a doubt that the church was true! Send an angel to smite me, I don’t care, just let him know I am in the right place! It never happened.
I didn’t understand why God withheld this knowledge from me. I struggled to baptize, despite promises that I would if I obeyed the mission rules. I saw missionaries who were known to be disobedient that would baptize very regularly. I felt that God must expect more from me than from them, and I redoubled my efforts. I continued to scrutinize every action I took in an attempt to open the windows of heaven. I was told that I would baptize every month if I tracted for two hours daily. When this failed, rather than question the promise, I wondered why my tracting wasn’t good enough and what I was doing wrong.
I served my mission in southern Alberta, Canada. There is a strong membership in some areas, which meant that there was also a strong anti-Mormon culture. Other religions would pass out pamphlets, and non-members we came across often knew about many church issues I had never heard of. My senior companions would always have the answers, and later I would use these answers myself. We were allowed no Internet access, and were allowed no reading material other than the scriptures and a set of five approved church books. I had no way of verifying the answers I gave.
On several occasions, I met someone who accused Joseph Smith of marrying other men’s wives. The answer I always gave was that he requested another man’s wife, but it was an Abrahamic test of that person’s faith and that Joseph never actually took his wife. This story is true: Joseph Smith asked for Heber C. Kimball’s wife, and when Heber agreed, Joseph called it a test, and told Heber that he had passed. What I never learned until after my mission was that Joseph later married Heber’s 14-year-old daughter Helen Mar Kimball by promising salvation to her entire family, and that there were multiple other men’s wives that Joseph did marry. Usually kept a secret from the husband and from Emma, sometimes after sending the husbands on missions.
I was confronted with the Book of Abraham problem, that the original manuscript had been found and didn’t match Joseph Smith’s “translation.” I was told by missionaries that it was an anti-Mormon lie. I was told about the connections between the temple ceremony and masonic rituals. I was told that the masonic ceremony dates back to the temple of Solomon, and that it is a corruption of the true temple ceremony. Neither of these “explanations” held water when I looked into them later, but at the time I had no access to information.
There was a defining moment for me, when I finally realized that I could no longer trust another person’s testimony. One zone conference toward the end of my mission, the theme was “Back to Basics.” The focus for the transfer was to focus on all the little rules, and that we would be blessed for it. Looking back on it, the whole idea was absurdly Pharisaical. One of the rules was the “half-bottom rule,” in that whenever we were teaching, we should lean forward and scoot up on our chairs so our bottoms would be halfway off of it. This would make us appear more interested and enthusiastic in our message. The zone leader asked me to do a practice discussion with him. I leaned forward in my chair, but was still seated in about the middle of the chair. He called me out and told me my butt had to be halfway off. I said “so you’re telling me that I will be more effective like this (scooting forward slightly) than like this? (scooting back a few inches)” His response was “don’t quarrel, Elder.” He then bore his testimony to me that he knew — knew — that I would have more baptisms if I sat the way he instructed. This was an epiphany for me. It was this very second that I realized that I couldn’t trust what other people “know” and that “know” is a lot less significant for some people than it is to me. Maybe they are following Elder Packer’s advice, and bearing testimony in order to find it. Maybe they are so numb to using it that it doesn’t mean anything to them, and they use it to manipulate people to do what they want, as I believe this zone leader was doing to me. In any case, this was a pivotal moment to me. I lost my faith in the testimony of others. I still had faith in the doctrine and the leaders. The doctrine still made sense to me, and I didn’t understand what the leaders — historical and current — had to gain from giving their life for the church if it weren’t true.
I continued to work for knowledge. While I no longer trusted the testimonies of others, I had decided many people are using “know” loosely, but others must still truly know. I needed to gain that knowledge. The scriptures still promised knowledge, and I trusted that the scriptures defined “know” the same way that I did.
It never happened on my mission. I struggled with depression for the last half of my mission, and it was largely because I felt lost. I was suicidal toward the end. I wrote a suicide note to my mission president and kept it in my desk drawer in case I decided to send it. I stared from my third-story balcony in one of my last areas and thought about diving off. Would it kill me? Then I’d finally know. My depression made it harder for me to work effectively. It was a constant cloud over me, and the worse it made me perform, the more I felt that I wasn’t living up to God’s expectations and I would never receive the knowledge I had been fighting for. Depression led to inaction, which led to harsher self-criticism, which led to deeper depression.
In my exit interview with my mission president, I told him about my frustrations. I had tried hard, I had hardly baptized, I still didn’t know the church was true. I had been taught that I had covenanted with people in the pre-existence to find them and bring them to the gospel, and I would be held responsible if I didn’t. My patriarchal blessing said that I was blessed to teach in such a way that many hearts would be lifted to the waters of baptism. This blessing was contingent on my righteousness. Did I do something wrong? The mission president’s response was a stuttered, “well, yes, you may have done things that prevented the spirit from leading you to these people.” That was all I needed to hear. I was indeed responsible. I had not been good enough.
I went home. I got married to my high school sweetheart in the temple. We lived a standard Mormon life for a
few years. We went to school, we had children. Inside I was still rotting away from my own feelings of inadequacy. I would give priesthood blessings and wait to see if it made a distinguishable difference. It never did, and I blamed myself for a lack of valiance. “I guess I don’t read my scriptures enough,” “I’m kind of bad at home teaching,” “My prayers are repetitive sometimes.”
I still had doctrinal and historical questions that I had shelved from my mission. Sometimes I would look them up on the Internet. “Adam-God Theory,” “Blood Atonement,” “Book of Abraham,” and so on. What I read usually made me uncomfortable. For a while I attributed this as a warning from the Spirit. Bad things make you feel bad. But this doesn’t make sense — a person from any religion would feel uncomfortable reading evidence against their faith, but that doesn’t make the evidence false. The more I thought about these things, the less the doctrine made sense to me. The doctrine was often vague or contradictory. The last pillar I had was the leaders, who I deeply respected. ‘The leaders cared about me. Why would they lie? What did they have to gain? Joseph Smith died a martyr for this church.’
I saw therapists a few times over the years, and I took depression medication. The medication didn’t help. The therapists did, but only a little. They — along with everyone else — told me I was too hard on myself. But who else could I blame? God? The Church? No, the church is perfect, but the people aren’t. This was my fault.
I finally decided it couldn’t go on. The church made me depressed. I talked to my bishop about it. I asked him, “How long do I keep doing this? How long is the test of my faith? I am supposed to persevere until I receive an answer, but what if it is wrong, and I never get an answer? Do I keep doing this until I die? Then I’ve wasted my life.” The best he could tell me is “as long as it takes.”
I gave God an ultimatum. “If you love me,” I prayed, “you’ll keep me in the church. I have given you my life up to this point and received no confirmation. I will do everything I am supposed to do for three months, and then I will leave. If you love me, keep your promise and give me a knowledge. Otherwise you have lost me, and it is your fault.” I did it. I did everything I was supposed to. But at the end of it, I still felt the same. I gave God a last prayer begging for a knowledge, and then I left.
At the time, I thought maybe I would come back. But if God really wanted me he would have to deliver. I told my wife I was leaving, but maybe I’d come back. I still wasn’t sure.
Having left, I no longer felt beholden to the rules of the church. I didn’t break any big ones. But I did start researching “anti-Mormon” stuff. I found out that the excuses I had used on my mission were sometimes disingenuous, and sometimes blatant lies. The issues I had heard about were real issues. I still had a lingering faith though. Even taking a break from the church, I wanted it to be true and thought it still might be.
But in my research, I learned about the church’s money, the businesses they own, the several-billion dollar mall they built, the million-dollar condos. I started to wonder how much they really loved me or the other members. The last lingering thread of my faith was cut when I read about Joseph Smith using manipulative tactics to marry dozens of women, including 14-year-old girls, about the reasons he was imprisoned, about how he treated Emma, and about the events surrounding his death. The other side of the story makes him sound much less like a martyr, and much more like a con-man who got too greedy and got what was coming to him. If I had heard about these things earlier in my disaffection, I may have dismissed them. At this point, Joseph Smith was the last part of my faith to fall. There was nothing left, and no turning back.
I am an ex-Mormon.