This was written in late June of 2015. I have read it since then and thought about changing and adding things, but I think it it is important to keep it as-is in order to preserve my raw thoughts and emotions from that time in my life.
You are reading this after months of absolute agony. I can’t expect you to understand everything that happened over this time period – the desperate prayers, the frantic studying, the meetings with my institute teacher and bishop, or the sobbing into my pillow at night. At times I would cry out to God in my heart and ask “Where is the Church and the gospel that I loved?”
I want to make a few things clear: I didn’t want to leave the Church. I have tried my absolute hardest to stay, despite doubts. I have “doubted my doubts before I doubted my faith”. I have stayed away from “anti-Mormon” websites. I tried ignoring the bad and just focusing on the positive. I went to the temple, talked to priesthood leaders, and asked God for help. I didn’t leave so I could start drinking wine or try drugs or break other commandments.
I can’t stay because I cannot believe God works like we are taught in the Church.
People have asked me multiple times about my spiritual experiences. How can you deny those? How can you walk away from those? I’m not. All of my experiences have been based in love, and helped me feel closer to my family and my friends. Those experiences are absolutely from God. But feelings of love and peace are not limited to members of our Church. Every religion in the world brings that to people, and most claim that they are the only true Church. If I was born into the FLDS church, into a happy family that did fun things together, and was taught Warren Jeffs was a prophet of God, how would I know he was a false prophet? How would I know that him taking polygamous children as his wives was wrong? And if it is wrong for Warren Jeffs to do that, why was it ok for Joseph Smith? If spiritual promptings are the ultimate and superseding evidence of truth, why do so many other religions have devout followers with the same spiritual experiences and testimony that we use to claim we are the one true church?
But what really started this journey for me wasn’t Joseph Smith or spiritual promptings in other religions. In the beginning, it was the modern Church. It seemed that the Church was not living its own commandments. (If you don’t understand what I mean, click on the links)
Yea, and there shall be many which shall teach after this manner, false and vain and foolish doctrines, and shall be puffed up in their hearts, and shall seek deep to hide their counsels from the Lord; and their works shall be in the dark…. They rob the poor because of their fine sanctuaries; they rob the poor because of their fine clothing;…. And others will he pacify, and lull them away into carnal security, that 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… Cursed is he that putteth his trust in man, or maketh flesh his arm, or shall hearken unto the precepts of men…Yea, wo be unto him that saith: We have received, and we need no more!(If you click the link, make sure you read the entire President Hinckley quote)
When I read these passages and compared them to what the modern Church has done/is doing, I am disturbed. All my life I had I had been told that the gospel was eternal and unchanging. I grew up singing “follow the prophet, don’t go astray, follow the prophet, he knows the way.” But my study of church history books showed me that prophets have taught things like blood atonement, polyamory, Adam-God theory, that interracial marriage was an eternal sin, that blacks were cursed and therefore didn’t deserve the priesthood or temple blessings – these were more than just the mistakes of men, they were taught as the official, binding, eternal will of God. How can I trust that these men will not lead me astray when they have lead others astray in the past?
The more I studied, the more contradictions kept piling up. From baptism requirements to tithing to excommunications, things were not being operated like the scriptures mandated. It seemed what was improper for a normal latter-day saint was standard and above criticism for a general authority. Things like the Strengthening Church Members Committee and the Church not being open with their financial records or historical archives confused me. What was once called anti-Mormon by the Church is now admitted in their new essays online. This did not seem like the open, loving, honest Church I had always believed in. I kept looking for the King Benjamins, but all I saw were great and spacious buildings.
Whenever I brought this up to someone I trusted, they would reply “a dead prophet is always trumped by a living prophet,” or “have more faith,” or “don’t you believe the Church is true? We will never fall into apostasy!” The problem was, I didn’t see any scriptural precedent of one prophet overturning or dismissing the words of another prophet. I didn’t see the system of the Church in the scriptures. I didn’t see the same prophetic gifts and visions from the scriptures being displayed in the lives of the brethren. What I did see in the scriptures were warnings of apostasy, the love of riches, and being too proud to admit that the traditions of fathers were wrong.
I started to wonder why the leaders of the Church claimed authority from Joseph Smith, but never demonstrated even a portion of the gifts he had. In my mind, the institution had become like the Pharisees, who saw their authority as passed down through Moses. Rules and standards were added to the law of the gospel (despite 3 Nephi 11:40) without any revelation that was similar to what Joseph or scriptural prophets received. We did not live the higher law that Jesus taught.
So to clarify and better understand the latter-day church, I turned to Joseph Smith. I reasoned that if he was really a prophet and that if the Book of Mormon was true, I could find a way to stay.
But the problems just got messier.
Someone asked if I still believe in the First Vision. I asked them “Which one?” We have 9 versions of it, 5 of which come from secondhand sources, 4 of which are Joseph’s own words. Each of these accounts are radically different when compared to each other. The first one of these was written 12 years after the Vision was supposed to have happened. In some versions he sees only angels, others only God, others the Father and the Son, others a pillar of fire. The circumstances relating to why he goes to pray are different, and the answers he gets equally vary. This disturbed me. Wouldn’t a prophet who had such a defining and impactful experience, an experience that really is the hallmark of our faith, be able to at least remember if he saw angels, God, or two personages?
Learning about the Book of Mormon translation process was also a bit confusing. I already knew that he used seer stones in a hat translate the Book of Mormon, but I did not know that when it was happening the plates were not even in front of him (after Martin Harris lost the 116 pages)! If the plates were so necessary to translate and preserve the message of the Book of Mormon that even Laban had to be killed, why did God not even ask Joseph to use them? What was the purpose of it?
What about the witnesses? They saw something, didn’t they?
Many of the witnesses said they didn’t see anything with their physical eyes, but spiritual ones. On top of that, many religions during that time had witnesses to spiritual events. They often had more witnesses, wrote their own testimony, and did not have a financial or familial obligation to the event. Why should I discount those testimonies over that of the Book of Mormon? What makes the Book of Mormon testimonies more valid than theirs?
Doctrines changed. The Book of Mormon, the most correct book on earth, went through a number of changes that were not just grammatical while Joseph Smith was alive. These changes in passages, such as “Behold, the virgin which thou seest, is the mother of God, after the manner of the flesh” (1830 Edition) to “Behold, the virgin whom thou seest, is the mother of the Son of God, after the manner of the flesh.” (1837 Edition) or “and the angel said unto me behold the Lamb of God yea even the Father! Knowest thou the meaning of the tree which thy father saw” (1830 Edition) to “And the angel said unto me, behold the Lamb of God, yea, even the Son of the Eternal Father! Knowest thou the meaning of the tree which thy father saw?” If the Book of Mormon was translated word for word like Joseph and others said it was, then why did he go back and make these and other doctrinally significant edits? Especially considering that his First Vision story changed from having one personage to two personages?
At this point, I felt like I was drowning. Anytime I would turn to anyone and ask questions, they couldn’t give me answers. They couldn’t even give me plausible explanations. Even the explanations on Fair Mormon were drastically different than what the Church teaches. I agree that one needs to have faith – but when does faith become willful ignorance? Faith should bridge the gap between our logical knowledge and our spiritual selves. But when faith contradicts fact, are we expected to ignore fact? Does God, who gave us our logical brains, expect us to suspend their use as part of endless mental gymnastics to prove our fealty not only to Him, but other men?
Something that disturbed me the most was really studying polygamy. I always knew Joseph was a polygamist, but I never really bothered with the history of it – it was icky, and I didn’t understand it, so I didn’t want to know. But I had come to a point where I felt like I needed to know everything I could about Joseph in order qualify for revelation, hoping that it could make sense in my mind and in my heart.
Joseph’s first polygamist wife was his 16 year old house keeper. The only reason we know this was because Emma stumbled upon them in the barn in the middle of the “transaction” (her words, not mine, and I am not sure what that means.) Oliver Cowdery called it a “dirty, nasty, filthy affair.” I agree with Oliver, especially considering that Joseph had not even received the sealing power when he married her. Especially considering that according to census information, the average age at marriage was 20 for women and 25 for men. Fanny was married in secret at 16 when Joseph was 32, twice her age.
Joseph also married Helen Mar Kimball when she was 14 years old. He told her that her and her family’s salvation was contingent on marrying him. Why would God determine her and her family’s salvation based on whether she was Joseph’s wife? In the end, she consented. She said of it “I would never have been sealed to Joseph had I known it was anything more than ceremony.”
Joseph also married Lucy Walker, age 17, after sending her father on a mission. He sent Horace Whitney on a mission, then married his 17-year-old sister Sarah Ann. He approached Sarah Pratt (who rejected his advances) while Orson Pratt was on a mission.
Zina Jacobs was asked by Joseph to become a plural wife. She refused, then married Henry Jacobs. 9 months later, while she was 7 months pregnant, Joseph approached her and said that an “angel with a drawn sword stood by me and told me if I did not establish that principle upon the earth I would lose my position and my life.” She agreed to marry Joseph. When Joseph died, she married Brigham. The church has this information in their genealogy records on FamilySearch, but does not list it on her bio page on LDS.org.
And these are all just a few of the many disturbing polygamous marriages. But not only are they disturbing, but they are in direct violation of how polygamy was supposed to be lived as declared in scripture. D&C 132 says: “if any man espouse a virgin, and desire to espouse another, and the first give her consent, and if he espouse the second, and they are virgins, and have vowed to no other man, then is he justified; he cannot commit adultery for they are given unto him; for he cannot commit adultery with that that belongeth unto him and to no one else.”
Joseph married women without the consent of his first wife Emma. He married 11 different women that were already married (aka not virgins). How is this ok? How am I supposed to believe that God would restore His everlasting gospel and Church this way?
Not only did Joseph secretly practice polygamy, he lied about it on multiple occasions. Not only did he lie about it, but everyone else that was involved in polygamy lied about it. 31 people, many of whom were practicing polygamy or were already one of Joseph’s wives even signed an affidavit that ran in the Times and Seasons that testified Joseph did not practice polygamy. If God commanded him to practice it, why lie? Or why would God command him to lie?
Further damning is William Law. He was a counselor to Joseph. After Joseph tried to get his wife to enter into a polyandrous marriage with him and was rejected, William was released from his calling in the First Presidency. William Law then printed the Nauvoo Expositor, which exposed Joseph’s polygamous marriages. Joseph ordered that it should be destroyed, which ultimately set up the events that would lead him to Carthage. Why would an innocent man try to hide the truth?
But even if Joseph messed up later in life, he could have at least translated scripture and restored the Church, right? We know of three attempted translations by Joseph.
The Pearl of Great Price contains the Book of Abraham and several facsimiles of hieroglyphs. The original documents were thought be lost, but resurfaced in the late 1900s. Mormon and non-Mormon scholars translated these documents and found they were completely false translations – Joseph did not translate any of it correctly.
During the early days of the Church, Joseph was brought plates that were found in the town of Kinderhook. They appeared ancient. Joseph attempted to translate them, saying:”I have translated a portion of them, and they contain the history of the person with whom they were found. He was a descendant of Ham, through the loins of Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and that he received his kingdom from the Ruler of heaven and earth…”. This plates were later found out to be a hoax.
The Book of Mormon has no physical record for us to independently validate its translation. How can I trust Joseph’s translating ability when it has been wrong so often? How can I trust he translated a historical record when he didn’t even use the plates to translate, but a seer stone he found in his neighbor’s yard when he was 15? How can I trust the seer stones when he told Martin Harris that in regards to the seer stone that “Some revelations are of God: some revelations are of man: and some revelations are of the devil.”
It becomes even more troubling when you compare contemporary texts with Book of Mormon passages. Problems like mistranslated sections of the KJV Bible being quoted in the Book of Mormon, Deutero-Isaiah issues, archeology, DNA evidence, and several contemporary literary sources that are too similar to the Book of Mormon to ignore.
These contemporary sources are incredible. The View On The Hebrews has parallels that are too hard to ignore regarding the Book of Mormon. Published in New York in 1825, the book tells about the destruction of Jerusalem and a group of one of the lost tribes of Israel coming to uninhabited America. This group splits into two, is eventually visited by a white bearded man, and the barbaric group eventually kills of the good group, and more. These similarities were reported to a council of church leadership in the 1930s by general authority B.H. Roberts. He found it troubling how many parallels the Book of Mormon had with Book of the Hebrews. This book seems to have given Joseph a basic outline for the Book of Mormon.
The 1st Book of Napoleon and The Late War also have striking similarities to the Book of Mormon and seem to have inspired its phraseology (I recommend checking out the links). But these are just the first of its problems. Verses that are changed with an inspired Joseph Smith translation in the Bible are left in their same incorrect version in the Book of Mormon. Chapters of Isaiah that most Bible scholars agree didn’t exist when Nephi would have left Jerusalem are quoted in the Book of Mormon. There is no DNA evidence of Hebrew people from the timeline that the Book of Mormon takes place. Millions of people died in wars with swords, armor, chariots, etc., but no evidence of these people or wars exists. Why would God get rid of the evidence? If He did not get rid of the evidence, why is it not there? Similar times with civilizations similar to those described in the Book of Mormon have plenty of evidence of their existence. So why not here? These issues coupled with Joseph’s history of false translating and dishonestly make it hard to believe the Book of Mormon is what it claims it is, despite good feelings we can get from it.
My heart has been shattered. I had never heard most of these things ever before. It has been very confusing, trying to reconcile the obviously good things the Church has brought me with the morally repugnant and fraudulent things that have happened. Many would say history is history, and that the church teaches good things now. But I am not looking for religion. I am looking for truth. That is why I loved the Church – it was always about truth. If those truth claims are not true, it poisons the whole thing. How can I believe temple ordinances and priesthood, despite them making me feel good and uplifted, have any validity if Joseph Smith was dishonest about his experiences? How can I trust that these promises are the promises of God when there are so many pieces of evidence pointing that these were empty words from Joseph Smith? I wish that it was all true – I wish I could believe and trust in those things. But you cannot separate the Church from its history – it relies on historical events for its claims to authority.
Truth, for me, has cut its own course. As much as I have resisted it and as painful as it has been, I cannot believe the things I once did. The mental gymnastics required of me to believe that a loving God would require me to support gluttony and mammon, demand that I suspend logic, ignore overwhelming physical evidence, believe a man was a prophet that married other men’s wives and daughters in secret, use excess church funds to invest in property and malls instead of helping the poor and needy, swear unwavering fealty to an organization that doesn’t even live up to its own standards, and believe that God would be at the head of this Church but not stop the awful things done by his prophets is a balancing act I cannot continue. Do I honestly have to justify doing wrong as God’s will in order to be a good person? Do I really have to believe that God wanted Joseph to tell a 14 year old girl that she needed to marry him for her and her family to go to the celestial kingdom in order to be a good person? How is me not supporting this wrong, but Joseph taking teenage brides justifiable?
These are facts. They happened. There is no such thing as moral relativity – wrong is wrong, right is right. Truth is truth.
I cannot emphasize enough, I have tried my absolute best to stay. If someone could find a way to have this make sense in my mind and in my heart, I am open to it. But as things stand, I can’t keep supporting this. I hope that before you tell me that I am making a mistake, you will explain to me what my mistake is. Have I made an illogical assumptions? Have I misjudged what is right and wrong? Is anything that I said not truthful? If it really is all “anti-Mormon” lies, what are the lies?
I am still grieving. Things are still hard. I am honestly afraid of what my friends reactions will be. But I also have felt a newfound peace. I now am able to think and act based on me and what I think. When I learn something new, like a new kind of ancient dinosaur, I don’t have to twist and wrestle it in order to make carbon dating fit with what the Church teaches. Of course, I don’t have the answers to everything. And I am ok with that. Right now, I am focused on love. “God is love”, I firmly believe that. I hope that you can know that although my feelings about the Church have changed, my feelings about my friends and family have not. I love you all so much. I do not think differently of you, in or out of the Church. I recognize the Church can bring good to a lot of people, and that God works with what we have, however imperfect that is.
I also believe that God expects us to be honest with ourselves and with Him. I hope that you can respect that, even if you disagree with my decision. I have only been honest with myself and with God. If you believe that I am making a mistake, feel free to suggest things for me to read or do or try. Please also understand that I may ask the same thing of you. I have a clear conscience, without doubt, without confusion. I am dedicated to following truth and love, no matter where it takes me.
I think, in the end, my feelings are summed up by this poem:
My people were Mormon pioneers.
Is the blood still good?
They stood in awe as truth
Flew by like a dove
And dropped a feather in the West.
Where truth flies you follow
If you are a pioneer.
I have searched the skies
And now and then
Another feather has fallen.
I have packed the handcart again
Packed it with the precious things
And thrown away the rest.
I will sing by the fires at night
Out there on uncharted ground
Where I am my own captain of tens
Where I blow the bugle
Bring myself to morning prayer
Map out the miles
And never know when or where
Or if at all I will finally say,
“This is the place,”
I face the plains
On a good day for walking.
The sun rises
And the mist clears.
I will be all right:
My people were Mormon Pioneers.
––Carol Lynn Pearson