Please read the whole thing if you plan on commenting. Some of what I write will probably offend LDS folk. Some of what I will write will offend protestant folk. Know that I am not intending to offend anyone, but only writing my personal experiences.
I have been very unhappy in the LDS faith for a long time. Without going into specifics, it started with the temple, forever ago, and just never went away. I felt like I had been had. I tried to get over it. For the first couple years after the temple, I tried to go all the time, to get used to it. I couldn’t. Then I tried to ignore it for a decade, only going when I had to for ward participation or when my wife wanted to go. Finally not even going then. It is somewhat hard to be LDS with a positive belief that nothing that happens in the temple is of God. It just doesn’t work.
And yet, LDS folk are some of the best people I have ever known. It is hard to accept that so many people of high intelligence and high integrity could believe if it isn’t true. Of course this is nonsense – there are doctors and dentists and artists and smart folk and dumb folk and people of integrity and people without in all religions. But being on the inside, seeing the people, how they work together, it is just different. It makes you want to believe, want to be a part of it all. Many of you outside the LDS faith will say it is the same in your church, or community program or even in some of your workplaces. You will say that that doesn’t prove anything, and intellectually I get it, but it is still hard to accept from the inside.
Let me start by saying where I am NOT. I am no enemy of the LDS faith. I don’t believe that it takes more faith, or more suspension of disbelief to accept golden plates and modern-day prophets than say, a virgin birth or resurrection. I am not calling Mormons stupid or naïve or ignorant. I am no enemy of the LDS church. I’m not going to write some book or website or tell all my friends that I finally got out of a cult. The LDS faith is full of good people who are honestly seeking God, and I personally have no fear for the salvation of anyone honestly seeking God.
My conscience is leading me a different way. I reassessed the church I came from, on a small scale in the Baptist church, and on a large scale in the Evangelical Protestant church. I just don’t and can’t accept sola scriptura and sola fide. I cannot accept that God set up a system whereby we are all only accountable to our own consciences on how we interpret scripture. The idea that all the knowledge that is needful from God is contained in the Bible is how we got tens of thousands of churches, each teaching their own interpretation. I understand that the vast majority believe core teachings the same, particularly the creed. I understand that they are far more united in belief than is taught in the LDS church. The differences are still stark enough that scripture alone cannot be the metric for truth. There has to be someone or something that can interpret that truth, correctly. God has to have left us more than a Bible.
After generally rejecting Evangelical Protestantism, I started looking at liturgical faiths. This actually started in Afghanistan. There was a protestant liturgical service in Afghanistan on a base that had no LDS service. I started attending it on Sundays, and immediately felt a draw towards it. Specifically, there was a corporate confession, where all together confessed their shortcomings in a general way before God. There was a seriousness with respect to communion that I never feel in the LDS church, where what they call the Sacrament is often taken too lightly, at least in my experience. (This has actually been addressed in recent conference talks, and appears to be a point that LDS leadership are attempting to improve upon, along with Sabbath observance.) But the most important part, the thing that I drunk up as a man in the desert drinks water, was the corporate worship. I felt like actual worship was taking place. Not the guitars and drums and cowbell you might find in modern Evangelical services but a reverent approaching of God in worship. Corporate prayer just felt so very right. It was what I needed.
Unfortunately, it didn’t last. The service was very poorly attended, and eventually cancelled. Modern military Protestantism is almost universally a “praise and worship” service with loud music and dancing. The soldiers didn’t want reverence.
All of this time I really delved into the scriptures. I tried to read the New Testament as if for the first time, if that makes sense. I tried to shuck any preconceived notions of what something meant, based on either LDS thought or my knowledge of protestant thought. I realized that while LDS beliefs can be defended with individual scripture verses, no one would read scripture whole and come out with LDS beliefs. It really requires picking the scriptures you read, and leaving a whole lot alone.
I read the whole of the Book of Mormon twice while in Afghanistan the first year, and again each of the following 3 years (2013 – 2015). I also tried to read it without preconceived beliefs. I prayed and prayed about it. I was constantly struck by how very Trinitarian the Book of Mormon really is. No one would ever read the Book of Mormon, absent any guidance from the LDS church, and come out with anything like the LDS conception of the Godhead. It is a Trinitarian book, and I would later learn that it is actually LESS Trinitarian due to changes made to it a century after it was written. I believe now that it reflects the beliefs of the young Joseph Smith when it was written, and those were Trinitarian beliefs as evidenced by all of his early teaching, his written account of the First Vision, and certainly by the Book of Mormon.
Between my New Testament reading, my Book of Mormon reading, and my reading of early church (early Christian church, not early LDS church, this distinction is made to determine timeline, not to insult the LDS church or call it non-Christian) doctrines, it became clear that the LDS church had gotten many things very very wrong. I could not be a polytheist. I just couldn’t. I could not believe that Jesus is God, and he has a Father, who is God, and there is a pantheon of Gods, and I can be destined to join them as a God in my own right. I understand that Mormons argue that because they only worship the Father, that they are not polytheists. I simply reject that argument.
My second stint in Afghanistan left me on a German/NATO base in Afghanistan. I started attending the local Catholic services. Sometimes they were in English, and sometimes in German. They were always beautiful. I fell in love with the Mass. Again, corporate worship and corporate prayer spoke to me. Everything that I read of early Christian worship looked liturgical. It felt so very right.
I did take issue with some Catholic beliefs. Papal Infallibility, Original Sin, the Immaculate Conception, Purgatory, and the near worship of Mary (I understand that Catholics would reject the idea that they worship Mary, but it felt like too much to me), all these and more didn’t quite feel right. But how worship was accomplished, the centrality of Christ and the Eucharist, so much felt very very right. (LDS folk will be irritated at the implication that Christ is not central in their service. It is right there in the name! I asked Seporah to help me count the number of times that Jesus was mentioned, or scripture was quoted in the last 2 weeks in the LDS service, during the talks, and in both weeks, it didn’t happen. Once. Seriously. [This was written months ago, there have been a few talks that referenced Christ recently])
So I came home from Afghanistan, and it was back to the real world. I was going back to church with good people, but a doctrine that I had rejected. In March of 2015 I finally told Märia how I felt. It wasn’t easy. It isn’t easy now.
With more study, I became aware of the Orthodox Church. Its worship is liturgical, and very close to the Catholic Church, but it maintains the beliefs held by the earliest Christians. In every single instance where Catholic and Orthodox beliefs differ, I tend to believe that the evidence supports Orthodox beliefs. For a little more than a year I have been attending the Orthodox Church in addition to LDS services. For almost a year, my children have been attending with me. For nearly 9 months, my wonderful wife has attended with us. She is still very much in the Mormon camp; whatever ill feelings you might have for me, please reserve them for me.
Eventually I will probably become a catechumen, and probably join the Orthodox Church. I will probably put in a letter with the LDS Church, simply to save the time and effort that would go into an excommunication (excommunications are mandatory for LDS members who officially join other churches). An official split with the LDS Church isn’t something that I want, but something that will be thrust upon me whether I want it or not, and I might as well make it easy.
So, comments. Just don’t. Comments are going to come in some very formulaic ways. There will be those who cheer me. There will be those who jeer me. There will be those who pray that I come back to my senses. There will be some who pray that my wife and children join me. There will be some who bear their testimony, one way or the other. Don’t. A testimony is a statement of belief, of faith. Whatever you believe, there are those who believe a different way, with equal or more evidence to support their belief. They also have a strong belief that they are sustained by God, that their testimony is given by the Holy Spirit. There is nothing you can say to each other, or to me, to determine whose “testimony” is of themselves, and whose comes from the Holy Spirit. So just don’t. Part of my rejection of the LDS Church is a rejection of a subjective feeling as the basis for my membership in any church. I am reading the Bible, reading early church scholars, saints and martyrs. Praying to God for guidance, but accepting that that guidance will mostly come from using my faculties to study history and see which church looks like what history has recorded the earliest churches looked like. To me, that is the Orthodox Church. I am still learning.
“But Steven, just above you talked about how the Orthodox Church, and the Catholic Church before it ‘felt’ right”. Yeah yeah. I am saying that a feeling will not be my sole, or even my primary basis for membership in a church. I am not saying that I reject that God can influence me through emotion. I am saying that I have to test those emotions rationally, and maintain a sense of skepticism, lest I fool myself into a belief that my own feelings are God. I would make a God of myself that way, which is the worst form of idolatry.
Pray for me. Tell me you are praying for me, if you wish. I just don’t think there is much else you can say that will not devolve into arguments and hurt feelings.