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Tensions that built while I was in the church

Published: Monday 29 Jun 2020 | Edited: Tuesday 30 Jun 2020

The rubber band of my belief in Mormonism snapped in a moment, but I had been cranking that sucker tight for a really long time. Ever since I was old enough to wonder about my beliefs, there were things about the church that bothered me. I think most of these aspects of the faith were well-known, even by believing members.

Racism

From a young age, I knew my church was racist. My folks grew up in the church during the period when black people weren't allowed into full participation: no priesthood offices for the men, and no admittance to Mormon temples for black men, women, or children.

Even as recently as my time in the church, there were all kinds of gross arguments floating around for why god didn't want black people to play, and why he finally changed his mind in 1978. As a teenager, I stopped accepting the idea that god changed his mind, and started to see the reality that the church drags its feet by about 1.4 decades with any kind of social progress.

Homophobia

This was the church's opportunity to oppose a civil rights issue in my lifetime. The church got really involved around 2008 when Prop 8 was up for vote in California. I don't remember having a particularly strong opinion about gay rights at that time, but I did feel weird about the church's insistence on getting involved so directly with influencing the vote on a ballot item. The church organized members to advocate in favor of the bill that blocked gay marriage in California. Their stance against homosexuality and non-conforming gender identity was so over the top through my whole adult experience in the church. The leadership would not fucking stop talking about. Every year, these crusty old guys would get up in the world broadcasts and talk about the threat that the gays posed to our simple, pure way of life as Mormons. I became more and more aware of gay rights because it was constantly in my face. As a missionary, I was required to have specific teleconferences with my mission president when I taught someone who had ever participated in any homosexual act. I started to roll my eyes whenever the church tried to explain why queer people were such a problem.

Once I left the farm town I grew up in, I met people who were gay and out; and, people who I grew up with started to come out as they left that bubble. Because I had a personal connection with gay people, I realized that queerness wasn't the threat my prophets told me it was. It wasn't a threat whatsoever.

Disagreement with Science and History

From as long as I can remember, I've been into history and science, so any time the church clashed with evidence in those categories, I got feeling some big internal dissonance. With the church's regressive attitudes toward race and sexuality, I was able, in some circumstances, to think:

Church leaders are probably wrong about these issues, but I think they are just doing their best, and on net, maybe they are inspired by god to give counsel that benefits people's lives. They just have big blind spots in these certain areas.

There were key doctrines of Mormonism, though, that just did't make sense. A big one for me was the Book of Mormon. In the intro to the Book of Mormon, it refers to itself as the most correct book ever published, and that it's a translation of real ancient records by Joseph Smith.

But it isn't.

It's full of anachronisms: animals, plants, religious ideas, and technology that verifiably never existed in the places and timeframes referenced. I'd heard about the mention of horses in America from 600 BCE to 400 CE being a reason people disbelieved it. But as I started to read it for myself, there were some parts that triggered my bullshit detector: Beyond the Book of Mormon, the biggest obstacle for my belief was the church's historical insistence that evolution by natural selection was not the instrument of the origin of species. Russell Nelson [the guys who currently leads the church] said this in 2007:

We believe that God is our creator and that he has created other forms of life. It’s interesting to me, drawing on my 40 years experience as a medical doctor, how similar those species are. We developed open-heart surgery, for example, experimenting on lower animals simply because the same creator made the human being. We owe a lot to those lower species. But to think that man evolved from one species to another is, to me, incomprehensible.

...

Man has always been man. Dogs have always been dogs. Monkeys have always been monkeys. It’s just the way genetics works.

I wasn't able to reconcile that at all. So my belief that prophets talked to god became pretty weak.

Church Finances

Being a self-professed Christian religion, Mormonism accepts the New Testament as a foundation of its canon. And if you read that just once, you get a pretty good feel for how well Jesus liked rich people and the use of religious office to extort wealth.

I found out a lot more about the church's money after I left, but even while I was a member I couldn't stomach the church's financial practices. The church's wealth is beyond belief. The tiny percentage of it they spend on humanitarian causes is always accompanied by a press event or a social media campaign; which kinda violates some of the basics of Christianity.

The church's relationship to wealth started to really feel gross to me when I caught a glimpse of international poverty among refugees while I was living in Italy. It became more and more disgusting the more I came to understand how much they had, and how they were using it mostly to buy farmland and urban real estate.

Even though a comparison to Scientology helped me snap out of it, I think my failed attempts to reconcile the church as a Christian entity and a capitalist entity was my single biggest source of dissonance.



These were all issues I knew about while I was an active, believing member of the church; so it was really hard to just exist for all those years. I had to bend my mind into weird shapes to give my money and time to an organization that I was way skeptical about. But I had to. The choice, at the time, was self-induced irrationality regarding the truth claims of my church, or becoming totally ostracized from my family, friends, and community. Maybe that wouldn't really have been the case, but I genuinely believed it then.

The stuff I found out after I stopped believing in the church really rocked my world.