I'd like to add my story to your web site. The decision to leave the church has been made very recently [Jan. 1999], with letters going out this very week to family, bishop, stake president, and church office informing them of my decision to have my name removed from the records of the church. So, I'm right in the middle of it all... which may make for an interesting post. (Perhaps I'll update it in couple of months or so with some perspective.) I've never done anything in my life that I was more sure of than stepping cleanly away from the church. I've never felt so peaceful, so free, and so alive in my life as I have since the 'change' began about 4 months ago.
What was the change all about? It was about doing my own searching for the meaning of it all. It was about reading some concepts in a book that were put so clearly that I couldn't help but change my mind about such basic things as the nature of God and the purpose of life. For the first time, the world made sense to me. No big nagging questions that I had had since I was a small boy. I gained a perspective that simply wiped out the stereotypical concepts of God that I'd been exposed to (Mormon and Christian mainly). For the first time in my life I saw God's love as truly unconditional and that we have God-given free agency to create what ever we want to in this life WITHOUT fear of condemnation or judgement in any form. Life is about the experience. It's simply about being. We're all OK in God's creation.
I'm not trying to be dogmatic here. I'm just trying to relay some of the positive ideas I had at that time this change took place that have changed my life so much for the better. I've since become somewhat more of an agnostic when it comes to the big God question. As for life being a 'test' of faith and obedience, I am sure that that is not the purpose.
It wasn't a week later when these profound changes took place in my mind than I got a call to meet with the second councilor in the stake presidency. I knew the bishopric was getting changed and I new that I was going to be called as a councilor. This would be an event that I had anticipated throughout my teenage years and earlier stages of adult life. It would an event my dad would be so proud to be part of as he ordained me to the office of high priest. I had some small stirrings that simply the relationships with the other members in the ward and bishopric in this position would be enough to make me put on the mask and accept the call (how vain!). But I knew deep down that I couldn't accept it with these new ideas floating around in my head. I simply couldn't be hypocritical and lead people in a church where the most basic doctrines were different than my new beliefs. I had never turned down a calling in my life. I was mister 'yes bishop' to everything. How could I get through this interview?
Well, I stuttered and stammered and tried to explain my new views on life and God and Jesus Christ and authority and ordinances, all to the complete shock of the interviewer. (He never extended the call so I guess I'm still at 100 % according to the records.) Soon after that I was called in to explain my 'religion' to the new bishop who would have had me as a councilor. It was really awesome to believe something without all the doubts behind it and be fearless in explaining it. It was liberating. Anyway, that was the beginning to the end. <P> After that, I dove into reading as much non-Mormon thought and philosophy as I could. I really kept the study on the positive side. For several years before that point I had periodically been on the net reading apologists and anti stuff alike. In retrospect, I spent a lot more time at sites like FARMS, and Jeff Lindsay's site (very intellectually soothing style), etc. to keep the questions stuffed down. It's amazing that when you already know that the answer must be a resounding 'Yes' to the ultimate questions (e.g. is the church true, was JS a true prophet, does God exist) you can believe anything through the eyes of faith.
But now with my new concept of God that felt so true to me, I simply needed to refer to one glaring fact in history: Joseph Smith penned a spiritual experience in his journal in the early part of the church that goes beyond question in my mind as to whether he saw God the Father. The experience simply did not include seeing God the Father. I'd read all the apologists stuff to explain this away, but these arguments paled in the light of what/who I now saw God to be. Like a house of cards...
I have thought, over the past 4 months, that I could integrate this new ideology into the whole of my life. I was completely honest with my wife about all of these changes. She's been totally accepting and loving. She's an amazing person that I love more than anything/anyone in the world. She's seen a better, more peaceful, loving me emerge from all of this. I accepted a calling as primary pianist, kept positive and supportive with my wife and 4 children about church, etc. I was beginning to live my life in the closet as it were.
But, recently a few things have become crystal clear: I will not lead my life as an enigma to the relationships I hold dear: wife, child, parent, friend. I will not live in the shadows of another's belief system; but, I will find my way through life without fear, with and integrity of mind. I don't want to go any further down the road and let every relationship be clouded by whether I am a temple recommend holder or not, testimony bearer or not, Mormon or not. For the record, I am none of those things now or will be in the future as far as I can determine. I will not play the role of fringe Mormon or closet Mormon.
It is my firm conviction that any relationship built on a lie (like a life led as a lie) will eventually deteriorate and become dysfunctional in time. Conversely, a relationship can ultimately grow in the midst of openness, honesty and courage, despite differences of belief in religious matters. My wife, my children, my parents will have to deal with the truth of my life sooner or later. I believe later will be more difficult than now. I have also accepted any decisions they may have to make to keep themselves wholly healthy.
With any relationship we must choose and renew those bonds everyday, or every chance that we can. If we want that relationship to continue, both sides must choose it, create it, and nourish it every step of the way. A truly loving God would never end that choosing no matter what some supposed authority might say about it. This is true free agency that God has given us. It breaks my heart that people don't see this more clearly. People put their trust in someone or something else external to the relationship that will somehow magically create and sustain the relationship for all time (and eternity). No set of words said or unsaid by anyone can prevent the true and honest act of creating a life-long, truly loving relationship. It is my belief that we are co-creators with God and free beings. I cannot come to any other conclusion given my experience to this point.
It astounds me that what people think of such metaphysical things could actually cause them to be driven apart. I have belonged to a community where one's most sincere and independent conclusions about the meaning of life are not accepted or possibly not even tolerated if they are different in a significant way. Indeed, these conclusions are seen as 'lies of the devil', or the 'foolishness of men', or the 'pride of the intellect'. The apostate must be set aside, left with no way to truly participate (except confess, forsake, repent), left to the path of eternal damnation, though glorious the terrestrial kingdom might be. It is in this position I have found myself in the eyes of the church and can no longer continue, especially when I know that I am more committed to my spiritual path than ever before.
In some ways, I wish the church would examine my life and my stepping away from it. I'm sure they would see the 'perfect' son raised in a loving home, taught by righteous parents. They would see the ordinations, the missionary rising to the ranks of AP, the marriage in the temple, the wonderful children born in the covenant. But would it also find that the glove never quite fit the whole of my life as it unfolded. And that if it didn't fit me, it might not fit everyone. And if it doesn't fit everyone, what that means to the very heart of its doctrine... one and only. Alas, I'm sure it could explain me all away.
I could go on about all the things typically covered in e-mails like this... the logical absurdities of the doctrine, the indoctrination itself, the cover-ups to promote 'faith', cursed fundamentalism... at this point, however, I just want to keep positive about my future. Though I dread the call from my parents toward the end of the week and all the stuff my wife and children will have to deal with over the coming months and years, I 'know' more than anything I've ever known in my life that this is what I need to do to keep spiritually and emotionally healthy. I also believe that I'm embarking on a much, much more authentic journey in life. I am joyous about life when I really stop and think about it now, temporal though that life might be.
I still have a pair of glasses on, but now I know I have them on. I also know that I can change the tint when it no longer matches the experiences of my life. What wonderful freedom!
To the reader, the seeker... Be courageous enough to look in the mirror and determine the tint of your glasses. Don't leave anything out - heart or mind, nor your whole lifetime of experiences - when examining your 'one and only' path back to God.
Eric, you have permission to post this and give my email address of firstname.lastname@example.org.