Everyone says the same thing, but it’s important to acknowledge I was a VERY devout Mormon. I learned to read from the Book of Mormon. I prayed every day and night without fail and studied the scriptures every day. I kept all the rules and then some. I didn’t date before age 16, I never drank ANY caffeine, I never watched porn, and not only did I avoid R-rated movies, I also avoided PG-13 movies. My favorite books were biographies of church leaders. My favorite music was the Mormon Tabernacle Choir (I know, right?).

As a teenager I got pretty depressed, until one night when I prayed and felt God’s voice in my heart. After that experience I “KNEW” that God was real, that he loved me, and that the church MUST be true. That’s when I really dedicated my life to God.

Everything I did after that point was with the intent of serving him. And Mormonism’s favorite way for young men to serve God is to go on a mission. So I did.

When I got to Brazil, I was heartbroken because the mission was nothing like I imagined. Rather than following the spirit of revelation to spiritually hungry investigators who were praying for the truth and ready to change their lives, I found myself part of a corporate sales team that was concerned with only one thing: baptism numbers.

Despite my initial devastation, I worked hard within the flawed system; I served as an assistant to the mission president and met some truly wonderful people. However, I was somewhat disillusioned. My relationship with God felt strong, but my testimony of the church was never quite the same.

When I got home I went to BYU-Idaho where I immersed myself in studying church history and doctrine. Because of my studies, people would often approach me with doubts and questions.

One day a convert roommate of mine asked about the church’s policy restricting people of African descent from the priesthood and temple ordinances. I was peripherally aware of the issue, but didn’t have a satisfactory explanation so I promised him I’d look into it.

I had imagined the leaders of the church were loving men who were aching to give blacks the priesthood but were forbidden by God. What I found in early conference talks and official letters  was that the leaders were actually just straight up racist. They taught that black people were an inferior race that was cursed for the sin of their father, Cain, and that any white person who intermarried with them would lose the priesthood and should be put to death on the spot.

I was devastated. If the church leaders who I believed were walking and talking with Jesus Christ had been so horrifically wrong on something so foundational, how could I trust their opinions on contemporary issues, like homosexuality?

That question opened the floodgate. I couldn’t stop researching. For over a year, I spent six hours a day reading biographies, histories, articles, letters, and journals. When I wasn’t reading, I was listening to apologetic podcasts. I was determined not to engage with anything that seemed “anti-Mormon.”

But the more I studied the more confused I became. The questions just kept piling up:

-Why did Joseph Smith give such drastically
conflicting stories about the first vision?
-Why didn’t the church talk about the Smith family’s deep involvement in ritual magic?
-Why was there no evidence of the Book of Mormon happening in the Americas?
-Why did the Book of Mormon use so much precise language from other 19th-century texts?
-Why were errors from the Smith family Bible found in the book of Mormon?
-Why did Joseph Smith marry underage brides?
-Why did Joseph Smith marry some 12 women who were already married?
-Why was Joseph Smith sealed to other women before being sealed to his first wife, Emma?
-Why did Joseph Smith take plural wives before he even received “ the sealing power?”
-Why is the papyrus Joseph Smith used to “translate” the Book of Abraham actually a common funerary text that has nothing to do with Abraham?
-Why did the church teach that polygamy was essential for exaltation and would never be taken away, only to do a 180 and go diehard monogamist after being pressured by the government? Why did church prophets teach that Adam was the father of Jesus Christ?
-Why did the church require people to make barbaric penalty oaths in the temple?
-Why did the church teach that covenant breakers had to atone with their own blood?
-How were prophets been so easily duped by forgeries like the Kinderhook plates and the Mark Hoffman documents?
-Why was the church spending more money on luxury shopping malls and other real estate projects than they were on humanitarian efforts?
-If women are just as important as men, why don’t they get the priesthood, why isn’t there female representation in the highest levels of the church, and why don’t women have equal speaking time in general conference?
-Why do women in the temple have to covenant with their husbands rather than directly with god like the men do?
-If the church is all about the truth, why does it punish people who were shining light on it?
-Why couldn’t prophets, seers, and revelators give any substantial answers to any of these (and MANY other) faith-shaking questions?

I never stopped praying. I never stopped studying the scriptures. I never committed any sexual sins. I never had any forbidden substances. I was looking for a way to save my faith, not lose it.

Yet satisfactory answers never came. Just more and more anxiety.

Finally, on Memorial Day 2015, I found myself sitting alone in my apartment watching the documentary, “Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief.”

The parallels with Mormonism were shocking. I had to ask myself, “If I were in a cult, how would I know it?”

By the end of the film, I knew it. So I left and never looked back. And I’ve never been happier.

Tanner Gilliland is a writer, artist, and jazz hands enthusiast based in Salt Lake City, UT. Check out his art on Instagram: @tanner_gilliland, his jokes on Twitter: @tgilliland789, and his poverty on Venmo: Tanner-Gilliland

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