I keep mulling about how to most effectively tell this story of mine. There were several dozen defining moments, moments that I didn’t recognize as pivotal until I looked back. There are important stories about growing up in a very orthodox Mormon family that also contributed to the way I viewed the church. Then there are the historical documents and biographies and the other books and podcasts as I dug deeper and deeper and deeper into the rabbit hole.
Keeping in mind that there was a lot of other things leading up to this point- a major defining moment came in October of 2010 while listening to LDS General Conference. This was largely defining because it was the first sign to myself that I was struggling with the church and felt like I was at odds with the church. Up until this point anything I’d struggled with or had a hard time with was MY problem because as people like to say, “the Church is perfect, but the people aren’t.”
The memory is seared in my brain. I was sitting in my basement listening to conference while sewing my daughter’s baptism dress. She was going to be baptized the following weekend and I was making her a special white dress for the occasion. I was sewing while Packer was speaking and I stopped when it became clear that he was talking about homosexuality and turned in my chair to listen.
You see at this time there was a rash of teenage kids committing suicide because they were being bullied by peers for being gay, or their parent’s were disowning them or a myriad of other reasons in relation to their sexuality. There was a large outreach in the media to reach these kids and to try to change the way gay youth were being treated to stop them from feeling like life just wasn’t living. The “It Gets Better”project was started in Sept. 2010 for this very reason.
So what was this leader of my church going to say on the topic? The LDS church had a lot of backlash from their involvement in Prop 8 in California and there was a part of me that was hoping that he was going to reach out to these youth…. I was hoping in vain. Instead he said several hurtful things- but the cherry on top was this:
“Some suppose that they were preset and cannot overcome what
they feel are inborn tendencies toward the impure and the
unnatural,” he said. “Not so. Why would our Heavenly Father do that
I started to cry. Sob might be a better description. My heart ached for all of who he was hurting with his words.
I knew that this man whom I considered to be an apostle of Jesus Christ and who was next in line to becoming the Prophet and leader of the church was wrong. Not just wrong, but WRONG. The feeling that I attributed to the spirit of God at the time (but now consider to be emotion and basic humanity) was telling me that his words were not of God, but of his own bigotry and lack of knowledge.
How could this man, who was speaking to hundreds of thousands of people (14,131,467 reported as members at the end of 2010) not know that what he was saying was so harmful? How many gay kids were there out there hearing him say that they were broken? That god didn’t make them that way- so clearly they were just making bad choices.
I tried to talk to people about it. I discussed it online. I talked about it with my husband and sister and her husband and several friends. The general consensus was that I was just me- and this was a man who was practically the prophet- and I needed to align my will with his- and that the problem was ME not his words.
Then the talks were printed online. The words were changed as to not be so offensive. The LDS.org version reads as follows,
”Some suppose that they were preset and cannot overcome what
they feel are inborn temptations toward the impure and unnatural.
Not so! Remember, God is our Heavenly Father.”
So I was left wondering, who was more in tune with the spirit? This apostle who was supposed to be so close to God? Who was supposed to be a “Special Witness” of Jesus? Or me. I knew the words were wrong the instant I heard them. The depths of my humanity told me so. He didn’t know until there was a public outcry (and I suspect it was the PR department that changed the wording- not him.)
My Megan was baptized the following weekend. I had bought her a new journal for her baptism with the intention of having all the friends and family write congratulations and their testimony in it for her as a keepsake. I couldn’t bring myself to write anything at all.
At some point in this process I realized that I was on shaky ground. Someone (or lots of someones) likely pointed it out to me also- but I knew that I was in dangerous territory. In the Mormon culture you don’t question the prophets and apostles or your leaders… you even covenant in the temple against “loud laughter and evil speaking of the Lord’s anointed.” Of course there is also major lip service given to “agency” but what it boils down to is aligning your will with God’s, and the Priesthood speaks for God. You can pray for personal revelation- but if the revelation you receive varies from the words of the Priesthood leaders in authority over you then you needed to pray again. Until you got the “right” answer.
I decided that I needed to work on my testimony of prophets. Clearly this was the issue. Me and my faith. Not the words that were spoken. This was towards the end of December of 2010 so I decided my goal in 2011 was to work on my testimony. I decided to start at the beginning- which in the LDS church means starting with Joseph Smith. I also figured that by the time I got to Packer, were he to live long enough to become prophet, he’d be long dead.
Then on January 4th in a belly dance class I slipped into the splits… and tore my MCL in my right knee. I hadn’t started working towards my goal of gaining a better testimony of prophets at all at that point- I figured it was God’s way of making me slow down and get to work. Six weeks later my knee had healed but my study of Joseph Smith* had brought me to conclude that he was a fraud- and if he was a fraud then nothing else mattered. If he made up the story about seeing God and Jesus and made up the gold plates and the angel Moroni, and made up the Book of Mormon…. nothing else mattered at all.
The LDS church was clearly built on a foundation of sand. At some point during that time I was no longer searching to confirm THAT the church was true, but instead was searching to see IF the church was true. My thinking had shifted. You can’t study something honestly if you’ve already decided you know the answer you will conclude with- you have to be open to being wrong.
Then you have to ask yourself, “If the LDS church wasn’t true, would I want to know?”
*The books I read all or most of in those six weeks were the following:
The Doctrine and Covenants (In chronological order)
The Joseph Smith teachings of living prophets manual (from Gospel Doctrine)
The History of the Church institute manual (I’m getting that name wrong- but it was from my D&C church history institute class).
Most of the Book of Mormon (finished it within a few weeks of that six weeks.)
Significant amount of the New Testament (I finished reading the New Testament and Old Testament by about Mid march.)