Friday, July 31, 2009

In order to attract readers I guess this is where I have to share a little about myself.

I must admit to everyone taking the time to read this that I'm normally very reluctant to share much of anything about myself with strangers. 

I typically prefer keeping myself to myself, only sharing selected tidbits here and there with a select few of my choosing.

That being said, why in the world am I baring my soul to the world on this blog?

In truth? I'm not absolutely certain. 

In part I believe that there are many LDS members who share many of the same doubts and uncertainties I did when I was a member of the church.

This blog is in part my attempt to share what has shaped my life and beliefs in the hope that it may be of some help to others who are on the same path I followed.

I also want to make it abundantly clear from the beginning that I do not hate Latter Day Saints; far from it! My parents, siblings, and in fact most of my living relatives are currently active members of the church.

I also have no intention of attacking or bashing the church whatsoever, any LDS doctrines I discuss today or in the future are for comparison purposes only and are necessary to contrast what I used to believe, against what I now believe, and to illustrate why my beliefs have changed.

I realize that many Latter Day Saints see any contrasting of LDS doctrine against competing doctrines as an attack on the church. Considering their history and the persecution the church experienced in their early years I understand why they do.

Nevertheless, it is unfortunate because without seeing and discussing all sides of an issue it is exceedingly difficult to make a truly informed choice.

I also do not hate the church as an institution even though I have left it. Granted, I no longer agree with many LDS core doctrines but I still greatly admire many things about the church; among these are their inclusiveness, their focus on the family, and their strong moral emphasis.

In fact, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints has shaped my life and worldview to such an extent that it might be fair to say that I am in some respects now a "Born Again Mormon."

I realize that this assertion will raise more than a few eyebrows in the orthodox Christian community so let me hasten to explain.

I believe fully in the divinity and Lordship of Jesus Christ.

I also believe without question in the tri-unity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in both purpose and essence.

I look solely to Jesus Christ for salvation by grace (Sola Gratia) through faith alone (Sola Fide), and not by any works of my own (feeble as they are!)

I am fully confident of the inerrancy of Scripture and look to Scripture alone (Sola Scriptura) for authority and guidance in my walk with the Lord.

So, what do I mean by the above assertion?

Simply that much of my present worldview was formed at my parents feet, in the local ward, and in the schools in Spanish Fork Utah in the 1960's and early 1970's.

Most of my moral positions and values though they come initially from the Bible were strained through the filter of or colored as it were by LDS doctrine.

The majority of those doctrines I believe today are with a few exceptions essentially correct.

All of these teachings and experiences have left me with a strong LDS identity and worldview in spite of the fact that I have since left the church.

My faith journey has been long and circuitous to say the least. In my journey I have been LDS, Jehovah's Witness, Roman Catholic, and now Protestant Christian.

Some may ascribe this to a fickleness of character or a tendency to be "blown to and fro by diverse doctrines of men," I can assure you that is not the case. The reasons behind my circuitous faith journey are far more complex than that.

As Jerry Garcia once said "What a long strange trip its been."

In the following paragraphs I will recount several negative attitudes from my childhood which some may construe as attacks on the church, they are not.

They are merely a recounting of my own experience and a reflection of the attitudes I held as a child.

I was a profoundly messed up boy from an extremely dysfunctional family. Which is why I am withholding my real name and many uniquely identifying details.

I am not ashamed of my family. On the contrary, I love my parents dearly and know almost with certainty that had I been in their shoes I would likely have done worse. I merely wish to spare them any embarrassment from these revelations of their prodigal son.

So, for those of you who may still be interested in why I left the church, how I ended up where I am today, and how any of this may in any way pertain to any of you please read on.

What has shaped my life?

Mostly books, but without a doubt the Bible comes first!

The Bible has shaped much of my worldview, all of my morals, most of my values, and it has shaped every worthy aspect of my character. If there is anything even remotely virtuous or praiseworthy in my life it has come from the Holy Spirit after first contemplating the word of God.

Who has shaped my life?

My wife *****

My dearest, closest, and only friend. I have loved ***** since the first time I laid eyes on her when we were 12 years old. It turns out she felt the same way about me on first sight though neither of us was confident enough to act on what we immediately felt for a couple of years after we met.
We have been together literally since we were children. ***** has stuck with me through, illness, drug addiction, alcoholism, and all the other painful detritus left over from both of our dysfunctional childhoods. Together we have weathered poverty, military separations, (too many!!!) the birth and growth of our children and many almost uncountable experiences together both good and bad for almost 30 years.

Without her love, help, and support I seriously doubt I would be alive today, nor would I wish to be. I simply cannot imagine living on without her and I praise God for putting her in my life.

The Jehovah's Witnesses

In spite of their many doctrinal flaws the Jehovah’s Witnesses do have a deep and abiding faith in the infallibility of Scripture.

Unfortunately, and to their detriment they do not believe that they can understand Scripture correctly without the aid of Watchtower Society publications to guide them.

I cannot remember the names of the particular witnesses I first studied with in England in 1985, however, it was through their efforts that I began to believe the Bible had been faithfully and accurately translated throughout the ages.
Prior to this I had been taught from infancy that the Bible though it was originally from God had over the course of time been mistranslated to the extent that some LDS members consider it to be utterly corrupted and therefore not to be trusted.

The LDS (Mormon) church maintains in their Articles of Faith that the Bible is the word of God:

"We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly; we also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God.” Article 8.

Essentially this means that in actual practice wherever the Bible disagrees with LDS doctrine the verses in question are considered suspect.

Here are a few examples from church sources of what I had been taught to believe about God’s word as found in the Bible:

"Ignorant translators, careless transcribers, or designing and corrupt priests have committed many errors" (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, page 327).

"... who in his right mind could for one moment suppose the Bible in its present form to be a perfect guide? Who knows that even one verse of the Bible has escaped pollution, so as to convey the same sense now that it did in the original?" (LDS Apostle Orson Pratt, "Divine Authenticity of the Book of Mormon," Page 47.)

"Many important points touching the salvation of men, had been taken from the Bible, or lost before it was compiled." (Joseph Smith, History of the Church, Volume 1, page 245)

And more from the “Book of Mormon” which is one of the four Scriptural sources Mormon’s consider authoritative:

"Thou fool, that shall say: A Bible, we have got a Bible, and we need no more Bible. ........Wherefore, because that ye have a Bible ye need not suppose that it contains all my words; neither need ye suppose that I have not caused more to be written." (2 Nephi 29:6, 10)

"..... for behold they have taken away from the gospel of the Lamb many parts which are plain and most precious; and also many covenants of the Lord have they taken away. And all this have they done that they might blind the eyes and harden the hearts of the children of men" (1 Nephi 13:26-27)

Needless to say, I owe much of my present faith in the inerrancy of Scripture to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, had it not been for their help in my coming to believe in the infallibility of the Word of God I seriously doubt I would have ever come to put my faith in the Bible to the extent that I could ever have come to a true saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Mary *******

Mary was a foster mother who took me in when I was 14. Mary was a member of the Salvation Army who was willing to take in a seriously messed up kid who was emotionally damaged and afflicted with multiple substance abuse problems.
 Mary was my very first real exposure to (relatively) orthodox Christianity. Much of what she said and did on my behalf didn’t register until years later. Nevertheless, she helped to plant a seed that much later bore fruit in my life.

I owe Mary an immense debt of gratitude, Mary holds a special place in my heart today.

Father Olson

Father Olson of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in ******** Washington helped me come to terms with the fact that there wasn’t one single “True Church” that was doctrinally infallible in all of it’s particulars on Earth today.
Father Olson  understood that all men and all denominations are flawed to a greater or lesser extent, he used the analogy of a boat representing denominations and water representing error to make his point.

The analogy went something like this:

“All boats leak, some boats leak more than others, you bail as much as you can to stay afloat, but some boats are simply swamped. With those it’s better to jump ship and swim to a less leaky boat!”

Father Olson’s pithy (and rather unorthodox) analogies coupled with his tireless patience helped me overcome many of the flawed attitudes and inaccurate doctrinal beliefs held over from my childhood.

My testimony

I've previously told a few people at **** that I was born and raised LDS or Mormon as they're more commonly known.

I've also mentioned it in classes a time or two when it was germane to the topic at hand or whenever I had an insight or other pertinent bit of information concerning LDS doctrine where it contrasted against orthodox Christianity.

So here is my story such as it is.

I was born under the covenant (into the Mormon Church) in ********, Washington. I was
confirmed into the Mormon church on the first Fast Sunday after my birth and was later sealed to my parents for time and eternity (a Mormon Temple ritual) in the Mesa Temple, in Mesa Arizona (long story and not really pertinent here).

I was baptized as most Mormon children are when I was 8 years old. When I was 12 years old I was ordained in the Mormon priesthood as a deacon. I was well on my way in the Mormon Church and had I remained on that path no doubt I would have risen far in the LDS hierarchy. As it turned out I remained a member of the church until I was 28.

The bulk of my family with a few exceptions have been dedicated Mormons for many generations. One of my grandmothers was a Southern Baptist but she was absolutely forbidden to talk to any of us grand-kids about religion at all.

As a result I grew up knowing absolutely nothing about orthodox Christianity. I believe that virtually all of my close living relatives with the exception of one sister are all still faithful members of the Mormon church today.

In some of the more fundamental Mormon circles apostasy which to them is leaving Mormonism, is seen as a sin a far more heinous sin even than murder.

In fact to become an apostate is referred to as becoming a “son of perdition”. An abomination that like Judas' sin is understood by those in Mormon inner circles as being unforgivable. It is the one sin that's guaranteed to cast the apostate into the furthest reach of the Mormon hell.

This particular portion of hell is referred to as "outer darkness." By leaving the church and rejecting it's teachings I have become in the eyes of much of my family and the Mormon church an apostate.

This sin in LDS eyes puts me in the same league as Judas Iscariot, Pol Pot, Stalin, Hitler, and Mao, in other words far beyond the pale.
Fortunately for me at least some of my family members have concluded that I wasn't truly converted to begin with which allows them to believe that I'm not truly apostate after all merely seduced by "man-made" doctrines.

Regardless, my defection from the church whatever the reasons has strained family relationships, made my religious views suspect possibly even pernicious were I to voice them to my nieces and nephews. This is very painful as I love all of them very much and I dearly wish to share with them some of the joy and peace I have found in Christ.

All of this has in the past caused people to ask “If that's the case why did you leave the Mormon Church?”

To answer that adequately I have to go back to the beginning.

I have always believed in God, even when I very small. Everything I saw, whether it was daisies in the grass, clouds in the sky, or the beauty and perfection of little kittens,were to me all undeniable evidence that God, was in His Heaven and that He was good.

I trusted God implicitly and loved him as only a small child can.

The problem was this; as I grew older what I was taught to believe about God led me to feel that He was somebody I really wanted nothing to do with at all.

I have always believed in Jesus as well. From my earliest memories, the stories I was told about Jesus, about His love for little children and the just plain rightness of Him that shone through in His parables and in everything we can know about Him made me want to know Him even more.

I remember one day when I was about four, my father told me that very soon Jesus was coming again. I stood outside that evening watching the sky until it got dark I so badly wanted the Jesus I believed in to come that very day.

I still do.

Once again though it was the things I was later taught about Jesus, the so-called “deeper mysteries”of the faith, secrets that aren't immediately taught to the newly converted, led me to want nothing to do with him.

Recently there has been a lot uproar made over the Gnostic claims made about Jesus in the Da Vinci code. Sadly, those claims are seen as relatively tame in orthodox eyes when compared to some of the more esoteric LDS teachings about Jesus.

For example I was taught that Jesus is our older spirit brother... and so is Lucifer.
I was taught the reason that Jesus had become “the Christ” was because God had chosen Jesus' plan for the ultimate exaltation (godhood) of man over lucifer's competing plan.

I was also taught that God was once a man and that faithful Mormon men can aspire to godhood as well.

"As man is, God once was. As God is, man may become.''

This little couplet is attributed to Lorenzo Snow in June of 1840 long before he became fifth president and prophet of the LDS church in 1898.

The couplet alludes to a doctrine known as the “Law of eternal progression” which
maintains that a man may if he lives righteously aspire to godhood or exaltation.

In the words of LDS Apostle Bruce McConkie, "Thus those who gain eternal life receive exaltation ... They are gods." (Mormon Doctrine, pg. 237

As I gradually “learned” these and many other “facts” about Christ and his “church” the childlike love I had for Jesus gradually faded away to nothing...

Does this mean that I hated Jesus or His Church?
Not at all!

What it means is that much of what I was being taught didn’t resonate at all well with me. Somehow, I intuitively felt that there was something wrong with what I was learning about the gospel.

I simply could not see God as an exalted man or godhood as something I could or even should aspire to.
I simply could not conceive of being a god; rather, I simply wanted to be with God, to kneel at His feet and worship in His presence forever.

I also simply could not believe God was ever once a man like me. On the contrary, I instinctively believed that God was the Ruler, Maker, and Creator of all that existed; matter, space, time, etc. I firmly believed God was the un-caused cause if you will. Subject to no law as He is the maker of all laws thereby having Dominion over them.

Regarding Jesus? I simply didn’t know enough about Him to really be certain of what I believed. I just knew that I wasn’t all that thrilled with what I had been taught about Him over the course of my life. I much preferred the simple Bible stories about Jesus that I had learned as a small boy.

By the time I was twelve I had ceased to care much about Jesus at all, I still believed he was the “Messiah,” but I wanted nothing to do with him or the type of Heaven I believed he ruled over.

Somewhere around this time,on the way to MIA (an LDS youth activity) I told my
mother that if heaven really were full of Mormons I would far rather go to hell. Some of you might think this was simply the outburst of a rebellious adolescent, it wasn't.

At the time I meant it.

I didn’t have anything against any of the Latter Day Saints I knew, I simply didn’t feel at one with either the church or its members. I felt more as if I were on the outside looking in at people I couldn’t really relate to in any meaningful way.
The idea of spending eternity with them as a stranger and an outsider was simply more than I could bear.

By this time I only really cared about where to get my next pack of cigarettes, who I could get to buy me a 12 pack, or bottle of scotch, and how much weed I could score for $10.00 (yeah, weed really was that cheap in the '70's).

These were methods I used in seeking an escape from the misery of life and from a reality that seemed intolerable.

Several years later as soon as she turned 18 I married my childhood sweetheart. In time I managed to clean my life up somewhat (get off drugs) and joined the US Air Force.

Soon after enlisting I got orders to ********* England where I soon became the proud father of two beautiful little boys. Both of my sons were and are undeserved gifts from God.

I had a nice house, a Harley Davidson in the garage, a devoted wife, lots of money, and I was doing well in the Air Force.

From the outside looking in my life probably seemed pretty good. The truth however was very different. My life was on a continuous downward spiral. I was smoking two or more packs of cigarettes a day and I always had a constant craving if it were possible to smoke even more.

What had originally been a few beers to unwind in the evening had turned into a full blown 24 hour a day drink 'til the pubs close every night alcoholism.

I felt this huge well of emptiness inside myself, this emptiness was accompanied by an overwhelming feeling of despair, a sense of meaninglessness, and a constant nagging dread that simply couldn't be overcome no matter how much I drank.
I gradually discovered that no matter how desperately I sought oblivion in a bottle all I would ever achieve was misery (and hangovers!)

Deep down I knew the only way I would ever experience any peace was to get right with God.I believed at that time this meant I had to reconcile myself with the Mormon Church.

I started reading everything I could find about the church's doctrines and history hoping that in the process of learning about it, I would be able to finally reconcile my heart with its teachings, and make my peace with God.

My wife and I had been sporadically been going to church all along and I was still being assigned visiting teaching and other priesthood duties.

Intellectually I “believed” in the Church. Nevertheless I could not accept some of its core doctrines in my heart. Somehow, many of them just didn’t ring true to me.

My wife also believed in the teachings of “The Church” but was convinced deep in her heart that she had no true relationship with God at all...

Around this time there were a couple of Jehovah's Witnesses frequenting our neighborhood (as they typically do). They were persistently knocking on our door, week after week, trying to talk to me about God and the Bible.
On a lark I began studying the Bible with them. I reasoned at the time that I could “confirm” my “faith” by teaching it to others.

I thought this would also further motivate me to find answers to some of the more esoteric doctrinal questions about the church that I hadn't already discovered satisfactory answers to.

Big miscalculation on my part!

It didn't take long studying the Bible with them for me to first develop a confidence in, and later an abiding faith in the Bible's accuracy, authenticity, and authority (this is something that Latter Day Saints don't have).

I also discovered that according to this Bible (which I now trusted) the Mormon church was wrong in several critical areas and was therefore according to the Bible teaching a false gospel.

I was so thrilled with the spiritual truth's I was learning from the Bible that I immediately began attending the local Kingdom Hall in order to learn everything about the Bible I could.

So far so good, But…

There is one aspect of my personality that has occasionally created turmoil in my life and in this case wreaked havoc on my newly found relationship with the Witnesses...

I must admit, I'm a voracious reader. Additionally, when I study I tend not to follow others study guidelines. As a result of this independent tendency I increasingly began to read the Bible on my own without the aid of the Watchtower Society's supplementary study aids.

I began to discover as I studied that the Witnesses were also misinterpreting some very critical verses and coming up with doctrines that I knew were incorrect. Apparently this church was also teaching a false gospel.

This discovery brought me to the brink of utter despair, I'd been so overjoyed to have “discovered” what I thought was “The Truth” and Christ's one “True Church” that the prospect of losing it once again was devastating.

I'd always been taught that even if the Mormon church wasn't true, it didn't matter, it would be pointless to look elsewhere 'cause all the mainline churches (Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, etc.) were totally apostate, their priests and pastors were teaching lies and actually serving the devil, albeit in some cases unknowingly.

 "And he said unto me: Behold there are save two churches only; the one is the church of the Lamb of God, and the other is the church of the devil; wherefore, whoso belongeth not to the church of the Lamb of God belongeth to that great church, which is the mother of abominations; and she is the whore of all the earth."
1 Nephi 14:10

In this verse the "church of the Lamb of God" is the Mormon church and the "church of the devil" is all other churches on Earth regardless the denomination.

In spite of this teaching I worshiped with the Roman Catholic church for a time reasoning that they were the inheritors along with the Orthodox more or less of the church first established by Jesus Christ and His apostles.

Though I was (and am) comfortable with the core doctrines of the Catholic Church I soon became very uncomfortable with a great many of their traditional practices believing that many of them were unscriptural, some of them even heretically unscriptural.

In time I found that I could not in good conscience continue to worship with the Catholic church any longer.

Believing there were no other viable churches to investigate and knowing of nowhere else to turn in order to learn “the truth,” I crawled back into my bottle and simply gave up looking for a while.

A couple of years later my as my boys grew older they started asking questions that I couldn't answer adequately. Questions like, “What is God like?” and “Who is Jesus?”

I decided that even if I never found “The True Church,” if in fact it even existed, I at least wanted my kids to learn who Jesus is, become familiar with God’s Word, and maybe someday, God willing, my sons would be able to find “The Truth,” that we their parents had failed to do.

Almost immediately after I'd come to this decision somebody stuck a flyer for an independent Baptist church on my front porch. This flyer advertised a Sunday school program for children. God truly does answer prayer!!!

I immediately started taking my kids to their Sunday school. Out of curiosity I stayed for the worship services. For quite a while I really couldn't comprehend much of what the pastor was talking about; at times I felt as though I was listening to an alien tongue.

After a while it began to sink in that he was claiming that you not only had to know about the Lord you also had to commit your heart to the Lord.
Apparently you had to ask Jesus to come into your heart and be your Lord and Savior thereby forming a personal relationship with Jesus!

This was an entirely new concept which seemed more than a little bizarre to me. On thinking it over I couldn't see how it would be a sin to pray that particular little formulaic "Sinners Prayer" regardless how goofy it seemed to be.

I already believed with all my heart that Jesus was exactly who the Bible said He was, I didn't think it would be wrong to pray for Him to be my Lord and my God.

Impossible though it seemed, even the hope that I could have a personal relationship with Jesus was something that I wanted more than anything else in the World!

I wish I could say I felt something miraculous happen the moment I said that prayer; I didn't.

Initially it didn't seem like anything had changed. I can now see in hindsight that something miraculous began that day.

It's now been twenty years since I took that first small step in faith.

I've experienced a lot of fits and starts since that momentous day. I tend to be stubborn as a mule on occasion and sometimes, dumb as an ox.

As a result of these flaws, I've suffered more than a few setbacks. Further, I've occasionally made some really dumb choices. Those of you who know me personally, know that I can also be more than a little obnoxious at times.

In spite of all this, even with all of my heel dragging, struggling, and complaining up a storm, Jesus has been consistently although slowly at times it seems changing my mind, heart, habits and attitudes.

I still have a very long way to go before I will ever be much of a servant to Christ. But, no matter what, I would never ever want to turn back to that dismal hell, that dreary existence, the utterly empty life, that I lived before.