As far as “True Believing Mormons” (TBMs) go, I was pretty freaking TBM. Since I converted to the church as a teenager, I had zero doubts that the church was true — honestly, zero. Doubt was never an issue for me. My “issues” in the church were things like, “Is reading my scriptures for 10 minutes a day enough?” or, “How can I be advancing spiritually when everyone at BYU seems kind of apathetic to me?” Such was the nature of my testimony — I had determined that the church was 100% true at 16, and hadn’t looked back since.
My four years at BYU were spent happy; I attended all my church meetings (duh), went to devotional almost every week, provided spiritual help to the “weaker” souls around me, and looked for every opportunity to live my testimony of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I disliked the honor code rule about not wearing flip-flops, but not enough to complain. I disliked not being able to wear yoga pants to the gym, but only enough to complain a little bit. I kept curfew, though I eased up on the “help others live the honor code” thing after my freshman year, when I would scold roommates who came home 10 minutes late.
I’m pretty sure I was close to a “perfect” Mormon. I was what the church wanted while also being what it needed — converts who are intelligent, well-acquainted with non-Mormon life and issues, and faithful enough to be 100% committed to the church but not so dogmatic that they don’t use face cards or appreciate an inappropriate joke once in a while. I was the kind of girl Mormon moms wanted their sons to date, and the kind of girl their sons wanted to date, because I was “righteous” while still being normal and “cool”.
I’m starting to sound braggy, I know, and that’s not my intention. (I don’t want any Mormons reading this to assume that pride was the problem that resulted in my apostasy, because I certainly didn’t ever feel perfect as a Mormon!) I just want to make sure I paint a decent picture of what I was like as a Mormon. Unquestioning, but smart. Faithful, but fun. You get the gist by now.
So how did I lose that unwavering testimony?
It began perfectly innocently and honestly. (And remained such.) I had a friend who started to read more fundamentalist Mormon ideas (though not polygamous!), after a battle with his testimony and a desire to remain faithful in the church. He wasn’t weird — he was one of the most faithful people I knew, so it was surprising to me when he began making statements that I considered wrong. These statements started out extremely mild, and became increasingly “apostate”. Things like, “I don’t think the church should have built City Creek mall” and “I’m not sure that Brigham Young was a prophet”.
As a TBM, these statements were alarming to me. Of course Brigham Young was a prophet — the church all fit together in a perfect line of succession, remember? I didn’t know about the long struggle to establish a new church president after Joseph died. I didn’t know about the correlation of Mormonism and the secrecy of tithing use. I didn’t know about blood atonement and polyandry and Adam-God theory. At this point in my life, I was decently well-versed in the scriptures (from reading them daily) and current church doctrine, and I had a pretty good handle of LDS.org standard church history, but I had never delved much deeper than that. Why would I need to? The gospel was simple. No need to question.
So, I argued with my friend. Not in a contentious way, because neither of us were really that type of person, but I’d certainly get frustrated at him sometimes. It was me who demanded that he tell me more of what he believed; he simply responded with source material for his ideas most of the time, and told me to study and pray for myself. This was kind of annoying to me, because I didn’t want to have to do a ton of work to understand his apostate ideas. He’d send me pages of scriptures to read, excerpts from church president biographies, and so on. Sometimes I’d read them, sometimes I’d skim them, sometimes I wouldn’t bother at all. They were always kosher — nothing “anti-Mormon”, so I could dismiss his ideas if I didn’t study too much, but couldn’t dismiss his sources.
As these discussions continued, my testimony was both strengthened and weakened. By that I mean that my crystal clear, whitewashed ideas about the gospel and church history began to align slightly more with reality, and my testimony of God, Jesus Christ, and the importance of personal study increased. I began to agree with my friend that we did need to rely on Jesus Christ more than church leaders, who had been wrong about stuff in the past. (The weaknesses of men, right?) It wasn’t that I disagreed with anything current church leaders were teaching — I was 100% on board with them! I just began to think that theoretically, Christ’s words should be more important than those of fallible men.
One of the first issues I “budged” on in discussions with my friend was taking the sacrament before baptism. As a convert, I had taken the sacrament before baptism, and I knew that it was a common practice in my home ward to let earnest investigators take it. But studying 3 Nephi 18 made it perfectly clear that non-members shouldn’t take the sacrament. This sounds like such a simple, non-issue to me now, but at the time it was pretty huge. The idea that bishops were getting it wrong, and that the church handbook might not be stating a policy that Christ himself clarified was alarming. Sort of. I wasn’t really worried at this point, just learning by faith. I asked my home bishop about this, and he said that he actually did teach missionaries that investigators shouldn’t really take the sacrament. Sometimes they just did it anyway, so no one tried to stop them. It was comforting to me that he was aware of this obvious doctrine instituted by the Savior, but also kind of frustrating that our ward had a lax attitude about it. These were the words of Christ, guys!
I remember talking about this sacrament thing with a guy I was dating at the time. He was even more “TBM” than I was (in that he didn’t feel the need to even entertain ideas such as the one I was presenting), and it did not fly with him. He instantly defended the church and said that church leaders’ application of scripture is what mattered; the rest of us are just simple humans prone to falsely interpreting things. I was irritated by this attitude — there wasn’t really a way to falsely interpret the words of Christ in 3 Nephi 18 concerning who can take the sacrament, but I let it drop.
That guy’s attitude proved to be one that I would encounter regularly from that point on, as I tried to explain to people what I had learned through faithful study and prayer. It was an annoying battle between my 100% faithful efforts to understand the gospel better (and confirmations from “the spirit” that I was learning correct principles), and other members of the church thinking these ideas were wrong and even “dangerous”.
As I continued studying, I learned about the awfulness of Brigham Young. Keep in mind that I wasn’t reading any “anti-Mormon” literature. (Though FAIR Mormon should practically be considered “anti-Mormon” given how it exposes church members to issues about the church, however faith-promoting it aims to be!) I realized that if a man could be responsible for blacks not receiving the priesthood and teachings like blood atonement, Adam-God theory, and the eternal sinfulness of interracial marriage, it’s not preposterous to think that perhaps he wasn’t as prophetic as the church claims he was. Brigham Young was the worst, my studies made that perfectly clear. This was really sad to me. He wasn’t just this quirky guy who said some zany things during his downtime from speaking prophetically — he legitimately taught false doctrine as doctrine, and was the cause of a lot of violent and upsetting ideas being taught in the church. The terrible things he said weren’t “off the record” — they were taught in conference, published in church materials, and generally accepted by church members at the time.
This was, of course, when things started to get troubling for me. If Brigham wasn’t a prophet, it was possible that Thomas S. Monson wasn’t one either. I became increasingly worried as I realized that Thomas S. Monson has never made a single prophesy. I read “Profile of a Prophet” by Hugh B. Brown and found that Thomas S. Monson didn’t pass the test. I read Jeremiah 23 about 15 times in the temple, and realized that something was not right with the current leaders. But everything I had learned at church taught me that Thomas had to be a prophet — it was all true, not just some of it, right? As I studied scriptures and the words of Joseph Smith more, I began to think it was absolutely possible that the church went astray after Joseph’s death. There was scriptural precedence for it, and the historical evidence was pretty damning. The whole “prophet can’t lead you astray thing” turned out to be just the words of Wilfred Woodruff when he was in a pinch because of the polygamy madness. (Polygamy continued after the manifesto . . .)
I read 2 Nephi 28 100+ times, realizing that the apostasy described in the chapter was remarkably similar to the church today. “Building fine sanctuaries and neglecting the poor”. “Teaching with learning and denying the Holy Ghost”. (Learning through the Holy Ghost had become increasingly important to me, as I realized that handbooks change, but the Holy Ghost is always supposed to be our guide.) “They have all gone astray save it be a few, who are the humble followers of Christ; nevertheless, they are led, that in many instances they do err because they are taught by the precepts of men.” What?! Only a few people wouldn’t go astray in the last days, and EVEN THOSE would err because they were taught by the precepts of men?!
At this point, it was becoming pretty clear that the church’s huge modern emphasis on correlation and choosing policy over inspiration was part of “the precepts of men”. The church simply did not have revelations any more in the way it was supposed to. “Wo unto them that turn aside the just for a thing of naught and revile against that which is good, and say that it is of no worth!” This was exactly the attitude I kept encountering from leaders and members of the church, who belittled my study of the words of Christ in favor of policies and “well the brethren haven’t emphasized that”. I felt like I was on my own now, in a sense. The church didn’t have a great track record of always being right, regardless of what church members believe, and it was clear that the potential for them to be wrong right now was considerable. But, I was still completely devoted to the church, and had zero intention of disobeying the brethren!
One scripture was a real nail in the coffin of my formerly pristine view of the church: “they will say: All is well in Zion; yea, Zion prospereth, all is well—and thus the devil cheateth their souls, and leadeth them away carefully down to hell.”
I had literally heard President Uchtdorf give a talk titled, “All Is Well” just a few months before! The idea that all was well in Zion was rampant throughout the church — it was in conference talks, sacrament talks, Sunday school, Relief Society . . . yet it was right here, in the Book of Mormon, that we shouldn’t have that attitude. At this point, I was trying harder in the gospel than I ever had before. I was doing everything I could to be the person God needed me to be, even if other members of His church seemed unaware of the need for increased spiritual awareness.
My friend told me about a guy called Denver Snuffer, who is essentially a non-polygamous fundamentalist. His story was not dissimilar to mine, in that he was a convert who was incredible faithful, until he became aware that all was not well in Zion. He claimed to have seen Christ, who had taught him a lot of important things. This was, of course, near blasphemy to me at first. Someone who isn’t an apostle or prophet claiming that Christ told him what to do in person? Yeah right. But as I read some of his blog posts and listened to a few parts of talks he’d given, it made a lot of sense. Here was a guy who believed, like I had grown to, that Brigham Young wasn’t a prophet. He still (at this point) believed that it was good to be a member of the church, because it’s the church that’s closest to the truth, but he taught the need to be spiritually independent too, and not rely on men for your salvation. Many people who wanted to leave the church were actually staying in it because of this guy. Denver Snuffer is incredibly smart — his grasp on scriptures and history was far superior to mine, and his faith is through the roof. So, to cut a long story short, I began to appreciate his teachings, and took them quite seriously.
The Denver Snuffer phase of my deconversion is really weird to most people. How could I believe that another man was a sort-of prophet, when the church teaches that it can only be Thomas S. Monson? Wasn’t it all or nothing? Well, no. There was enough scriptural basis for the ideas of Denver Snuffer (and the whole movement surrounding those ideas) that it made total sense to me at the time. Christ would that all men were prophets. God had said that the president of the church must be called by common consent, and if the members of the church didn’t support a certain man as president of the church, he wouldn’t become it. (Now, members of the church just assume that to refuse to sustain a new church president is apostasy, ignoring the teachings of the Lord in D&C.) Denver Snuffer did not teach people to follow him, which was refreshing from the “follow the prophet even if he’s wrong” attitude of the modern church. (But of course, people do kind of follow him.)
My Denver Snuffer phase was definitely the most intense one, and it was a very necessary stage of my deconversion. I don’t really like calling it a “Denver Snuffer phase” because I know how quickly the average Mormon will tear holes in my entire story for “following alternate voices”. It was really just a “rely on Christ and the restoration” phase, but it’s tricky because Christ, as we know, is all-too-silent in 2015. Hence why the church relies on modern leaders. Despite the prophet of the restoration telling us not to do that.
The best thing I can say about this phase is that it taught me charity and love like the church had never done. I mean, sure, the church had taught me to be loving and charitable. But Denver Snuffer and the whole “LDS remnant” movement/group (not to be confused with an actual church with that name) taught me to really really be loving, because everything is solely focused on Jesus Christ. I became less judgmental, more compassionate, and more prone to fill up a struggling stranger’s gas tank than I ever had before. I would give hundreds of dollars to those in need on top on my tithing and fast offerings, which as this point in my life, was no small amount of money. But Christ would never be ok with be being selfish — I needed to consecrate as much of my resources as possible to helping others in need. I couldn’t justify buying a sweater or a pack of soda when there were people starving in the world. (A pretty good attitude to have, but a bit unhealthy if taken to the extreme as I was doing more and more.)
The downside was the obsession. Knowing that I couldn’t rely on the LDS church to lead me to my salvation was terrifying, though scripturally sound. I couldn’t rely on anyone except myself and Jesus Christ — primarily him, of course. I couldn’t, as my seminary teacher had once taught, just stay temple worthy my whole life and then get to the highest degree of the Celestial kingdom when I died. I wasn’t going to sit down with the likes of Abraham and Joseph Smith after a lifetime of spiritual apathy — I needed to be giving it everything I had! Heck, I needed to try and make my calling and election sure if I was going to be sealed to my husband in the next life! Do members of the church really think that they’ll die and Christ will sprinkle magical fairy dust on them to make them like him?! How can we become perfect like Heavenly Father unless we go through a process of becoming perfect like Heavenly Father? The atonement isn’t a video game “cheat” to the highest level.
Doctrinally-based ideas on multiple mortal probations, having my calling and election made sure, and needing to seek the literal face of Christ in this life became all-consuming to me, as I continued trying my hardest to stay faithful and do what God wanted me to do. I had my first ever panic attack. I was previously a pretty stable individual, but now I was having major anxiety all of the time.
I learned to keep my mouth shut about my new ideas, because of the psychological tendency for people to double down in their beliefs when they are contradicted. Cognitive dissonance is a real B. I instead settled for the occasional comment in Sunday School about focusing more on Christ. “The people of Moses just wanted Moses to do all the work for them, and they just continued wandering in the wilderness as a result,” I’d say in class, hoping that people would recognize what an important comment it was because we all needed to be relying on the Savior and not just the brethren. They didn’t, and the comment was swiftly moved on from without anyone even praising it as worthwhile. Of course, cheesy platitude-based comments were heralded as the Holy Ghost in comment form, but whatever.
When Christ came, people didn’t recognize him. The modern LDS church was a church of pharisees — of this, I was confident. It sucked, because I loved the church so much, but it was just the way it was. God has always required people to go against the grain in order to follow him, and I was trying my hardest to do that. I’d felt “the spirit” confirm to me that Denver Snuffer was a prophet of God — I cried tears of enlightenment as I was given that “witness”. I knew there was a difficult journey ahead, but my spiritual confirmation of this new stuff was just as strong as my original “witness” of the truthfulness of the church had been.
As I attempted to seek the literal face of Christ (an idea I wasn’t necessarily crazy about, but felt obliged to do), the reality of evil spirits were also on my mind more. I was in a Facebook group of other “LDS Remnant” people, many of whom regularly mentioned that they’d felt the presence of evil spirits more, some of them even encountering them in person. Opposition in all things, yeah? We all know that when someone is trying to be more like Christ, the devil tries harder. So these devoted LDS Remnant people were having experiences with so-called demons. This is actually a pretty natural thing to happen to a person when their brain is so consumed by the supernatural, and it’s a self-perpetuating idea the more people talk about it. This absolutely terrified me, because I did not want to see any demons! I knew they couldn’t hurt me, but it was still really freaking scary. I began to feel afraid to even walk across my apartment to the bathroom at night, as stupid as that sounds now.
I hated all of this most of the time. I had loved the church so much, and I wished it was just the way I’d always believed it was. But I couldn’t ignore history and the scriptures — I had to do what God wanted, even when it was painfully difficult. Life becomes a lot less enjoyable when you believe that you must, at some point, be tested to your absolute limit in order to prove your devotion to God and be exalted one day. I never really felt cut out for it like other people in LDS Remnant did — they all seemed to be trying so much harder than me. Some were talking with angels, and performing miracles, and I just felt afraid. But with God, we need not be afraid, right? If I was afraid, I wasn’t being faithful enough.
I continued on with this path for about another month before things started hitting the fan. It had only been about 8 months since all of this began, but it had been a rollercoaster. I had reached the point where I didn’t seem to be getting answers to prayers. I’d been trying so hard, being as much like Jesus Christ as I felt physically capable of, and devoting everything I had to the Lord, but things weren’t getting easier or better. I didn’t feel closer to Christ, however hard I tried. Such an increase of effort and faith should produce some kind of spiritual results, surely? Or can I just expect it to be a grueling test to the end, with no real confirmation that I was doing the right thing?
Though I had discovered many disturbing, potentially faith-destroying things in my study of church history and present practices, I had held onto the idea of Joseph Smith being the prophet of the restoration. Of course, this was the basis for everything. It was Joseph Smith and The Book of Mormon — those were the essential, Mormon-specific ingredients of my testimony. So anytime I encountered information that was damning of Joseph Smith, I ignored it, assumed it was just Brigham or someone else twisting things at a later date, or justified it in some way. (I even began to think that Joseph wasn’t a polygamist, because it was such a disgusting practice the more I read about it. Believing that Brigham was the one who really got polygamy rolling and wasn’t justified to do so was far more comforting. Plus, Joseph Smith denied polygamy for like, his whole life. And I had to trust him.)
When I was a “normal”, faithful member of the church, it was easy to know how I was doing, because as long as you’re following the brethren, you’re doing well. You aren’t seeking any HUGE spiritual experiences or miracles or learning, you’re just moving along the road to eternal life as you’ve been taught to do by other men. Now, I was relying on the Holy Ghost and the words of the prophet of the restoration more than anything else, and seeking the kind of experiences the scriptures taught us to seek. It wasn’t some kind of unrighteous sign-seeking — I didn’t even really want the signs I was supposed to be seeking! I just believed they were important, because the scriptures said so.
Funnily enough, the Holy Ghost isn’t as great at telling you you’re doing a good job as your bishop. (Though my bishop still loved my faith and obedience at this time… I was always honest, so apparently he couldn’t discern my apostasy!) The more devoted I had become, the less payoff I was seeing. The more I was analyzing my spirituality, the less spiritual I really felt. I felt trapped in a world where I knew too much to go back, but apparently wasn’t good enough to go forward. General conference platitudes of “you’re always good enough!” just didn’t cut it next to the scriptures telling us to work out our own salvation with everything we have in us, nothing wavering. “All is well in Zion” was an apostate idea, however many people might think I was the apostate. But that didn’t mean God was answering my desperate prayers for him to make himself known to me.
After weeks of “last-ditch” attempts to know God — pleading with him, sacred grove style (in my case, under a tree in a park near my house), I was rapidly losing all faith. The ways that I had managed to make the church still “true” in my mind had only continued unraveling the more I studied, and I reached the point where I thought, “These blows will never stop coming. The church is completely riddled with errors.”
The blow that eventually broke me down was allowing myself to read contemporary source material about Joseph’s polygamy. (Thanks, Mormon Think.) I’d somehow managed to shut myself off from most of it, so actually reading the words of him, his wives, his accusers, his supporters, etc. regarding polygamy was absolutely crushing. This guy was a liar. He didn’t die as some martyr — he was killed because he was pissing people off because he kept marrying their wives and then had a printing press destroyed for exposing him! I couldn’t believe it, and yet I absolutely could. I’d known deep down that Joseph wasn’t this shining knight I so wanted him to be — otherwise I wouldn’t have been so afraid of “anti” material and negative information about his life.
I finally accepted that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and the LDS Remnant movement I’d become involved in, was built on a lie. The Book of Mormon was written by a man who used the same seer stone to find buried treasure for people, a crime he was tried in court for. It was laced with errors. I finally allowed myself to read the CES Letter to the end, without seeking to justify as I went. Game over. I’d reached my full capacity to do mental gymnastics, and I had to accept that there was no reasonable, logical way the church was true. Because even if it was, God was a polygamist who required people to lie a lot for him.
The most heartbreaking part of my deconversion was, and still is, that people assume a lack of faith. They assume some kind of unrighteous desire, or stupidity for allowing myself to read “anti-Mormon literature” (that they don’t realize is just the Journal of Freaking Discourses). Most people who know I have left the church don’t know the story I just told, hence why I felt like it was finally time to share it. It’s frustrating and hurtful that they assume I wasn’t faithful enough — I feel like I exerted more faith than most members of the church do in a lifetime. I was willing to abandon easier, pharisaical ideas about God in favor of the difficult, less traveled path that honestly, freaking sucked. It was like being punished for daring to care too much about the church. I only studied history because I believed there were answers — the church was true as far as I was concerned, and God loved it when we studied in faith, right?
The moments of light were there, sure. There were times when I felt “the spirit” confirm to me that I was doing the right thing, or I wouldn’t have kept going. But a lack of faith was never my problem. I was willing to lay everything on the altar — heck, I was even emotionally preparing myself for the inevitable death of my husband, or something like that — because that’s how I knew God could test me the most. I hated it, but I was too faithful to quit. I wanted to know my savior.
This journey had taught me to question ideas we do not question. It taught me to study things out for myself and not believe well-circulated rumors, or just assume that something is God’s will. There were enough evidences throughout church history and current church practice that confirmed the need for that. I believe that I needed to go through the “fundamentalist” phase in order to eventually leave the church. The church meant too much for me to just find out that it’s provably false, realize it’s not true, and leave. The Denver Snuffer stage was a way to make it work in spite of legitimate evidence of its falsity. So when people claimed or claim that I didn’t have enough faith, I hope they’ll read this story and understand how false that is. I was willing to keep going in the face of evidence most members have no idea exists. I was willing to put my whole heart, mind, emotional stability, and mortal happiness on the altar in order to please God.
The LDS church is a church of faithful people, that’s for sure. But everyone has a limit, and I don’t think most members would be willing to exert as much faith as I did in order to try and understand God’s will. That’s not me bragging — it’s not healthy to do what I did. I drove myself crazy. I’m proud of myself for casting off the chains of tribalism in order to pursue what was real and right and true. This post isn’t a comprehensive account of me leaving the church — I would need to write a book in order to tell everything, and I’m sure there are details I missed out. (I’ll add them as they come to me, perhaps.) I fear that people will read it and make false assumptions, but I hope they won’t. I hope they’ll realize that this is just the story of an earnest truth-seeker.
It makes me sad that people don’t realize how faithful many ex-Mormons were, and how it was the strength of their faith that resulted in them leaving the church — because they cared enough to study. They cared enough to want to know things. There’s a reason the “spiritually elite” are leaving the church, and it’s not because Satan forced people to tell lies or hid evidences for the Book of Mormon somewhere humans will never find them.
I hope that at least one Mormon reads this story, as long and perhaps even easy to dismiss it may be, and develops increased compassion for his or her ex-Mormon brothers and sisters. They’ve gone through a lot.