In following up on the story about the excommunication of Mesa, Arizona church member Lyndon Lamborn, I emailed Lyndon asking for more details about the circumstances surrounding his excommunication. He kindly responded and, with his permission, I post his response here. The words are entirely his (with a few minor editorial revisions to clean up typos or protect the identity of those whose permission for revealing their identity I did not obtain). Some of his words are stronger than what I would have chosen to use, but I think his story is important, and it has garnered enough interest, to share it here uncensored and not watered down. The words following the jump are Lyndon's own, and it is my understanding they were originally written in response to further media inquiries. My thanks to Lyndon for allowing me to share this with the readers of Equality Time.
Lyndon Lamborn--In His Own Words
After reading “Under the Banner of Heaven” and “Studies of the Book of Mormon”, I was having some serious doubts regarding the foundation of the church. I brought up these doubts to Bishop Palmer in late September 2005. The conversation eventually came around to with whom, if anyone, had I been discussing this information? I replied that I was connected with an e-mail discussion group that included my five brothers, all returned missionaries married in the temple. I expected this information to be confidential and private between us. Early the following week, I was astounded to get a phone call from my oldest brother Vern, who had just had a visit from his bishop asking about where he stood with his beliefs in the church. It turns out that Palmer had contacted all the bishops of my brothers and each one was visited by local leaders to determine what, if any, doubts they might have regarding church teachings.
From the very beginning of my research I decided to not be ‘in the closet’. I informed my wife of the books I was reading and offered them to her to read if she chose to. I talked to friends, Bishop Palmer, and President Molina on multiple occasions to update them on my progress. I also spoke to my mother regarding my misgivings with church origins, and gave her the book “Mormon Enigma” for Christmas. On several occasions, I mentioned to friends at church that I had been researching church origins as a hobby and asked if they would like me to share my research with them, the answer was generally in the affirmative. Basically, I took to heart the advice of Thomas Jefferson who taught that however discomfiting a free exchange may be, truth will ultimately emerge the victor. English philosopher John Stuart Mill said that any attempt to resist another opinion is a “peculiar evil.” If the opinion is right, we are robbed of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth. If it is wrong, we are deprived of a deeper understanding of the truth in its collision with error. There can be no objection to discussion of facts, and yes, opinions as well. Only error fears examination. Ironically, I believe it was my church missionary training that contributed heavily to my sharing attitude.
It did not take too long for my openness with my doubts and sharing of information to land me in the office of President Molina for the final time. I had just returned from Peru. Our Inca trail guide happened to be LDS, and when he asked me if I was LDS, I realized as I said ‘yes’ that I never wanted to answer that question in the affirmative ever again. My friends in the tent could see it in my face, they told me later. It was a defining moment for me. Ignoring the conclusions of my studies would be hypocritical and, in my eyes, it would be a greater sin than putting all of that behind me and carrying on as if none of it existed. Molina and I agreed to have my records removed. I decided that leaving quietly was the most polite course of action. At the end of our discussion, I left Molina’s office with the impression that I would sign some papers, nobody would have to know, and that would be the end of it. I informed my e-mail discussion group of this planned course of action (verify with Vern or others if you wish).
Well, I was surprised to receive, about 10 days later, a summons to a disciplinary council instead of some standard papers to sign. I assumed this was a formality and treated it as an exit interview. I really did not hold anything back as I spoke to the 15 men of the disciplinary council. Finally, I felt strongly that I should not have to apologize for simply being honest with myself. I made the following points:
• Each of them in their lives could expect to have loved ones become disaffected with the church, and they should remember that family relationships are infinitely more important than choices in belief systems. Religious fanaticism should never shred families!
• Each of them is called upon to bear witness as part of their responsibilities, and they should use extreme caution to avoid bearing false witness. I described the unreliable nature of the truth test in the Book of Mormon, and the reasons why the basic tenets of Mormonism must be based on faith, not knowledge.
• I boldly told them that I was not amenable to any set of rules regarding my deportment as I continue to attend church as a visitor. You have two choices, I told them, “either accept me a brother or get a court order to bar me from entering the church”. After having paid such a dear price to discover the deceptions that had consumed my soul for 40+ years, to have these men sit there and pretend to have some sort of power over me was simply too much to bear. Wasn’t it enough that I have to endure the anguish knowing that my actions would pain my family? I felt it appropriate to dispel this illusion of power in order that they understand the depth of my convictions.
In retrospect, it was probably this last statement that motivated the Stake leadership to take the extreme measure of announcing my excommunication to the adults of the stake. From my viewpoint, the announcements really would not bring with it a substantive change. Those with closed minds would dismiss any information contradicting the orthodox view regardless of what announcement is or isn’t made. Those that are opened-minded will continue to have an open mind, and listen to what I have to say from an objective viewpoint despite any announcement. That rational church leaders continue to think that such announcements actually protect the church is frankly a surprise to me.
When the announcements were not made on Sunday as promised, I chatted with President Molina to get a reason for the cancellation. He said that he has been undecided all along about the announcements, which contradicted the letter I received. He also indicated that with the newspaper article, the announcement becomes unnecessary since the word would surely ‘get around’. I believe the cancellation of the announcement was a win-win and a sound decision of the part of Molina. It spared my wife the embarrassment and shame among her peers, and it protected the church from the threat of legal action, which I found out later had happened in other cases such as mine. In any case, the promise of an announcement and the anguish it caused me and my family merited the Tribune article.
This episode shows what an "abusive parent" the church can be. The church is fine with closed-door tactics to beat you up. Starting at a very young age, the youth are interviewed for 'worthiness' by the bishop. You are called in to a closed door meeting, and interviewed (interrogated) about your 'worthiness'. Meanwhile, your real parents wait out side, not participating in this invasion of privacy.
This process continues for your entire life in Mormonism. Always behind closed doors. If you ever cross the church leadership, you will be called in and spiritually beat up to 'get back in line'. If you publicly question the church leadership, you are called in before the high council, and beat into submission again, or ex-ed. Like the old Rush song....."conform or be cast out".
The Mormon church is happy to bully you, threaten you (you will lose your eternal family !! ), and brand you with a scarlet letter, as long as it can do its dirty work without the outside world seeing in. But like a parents who abuse their kids, the church backs off when daylight is shown on their misdeeds. Abusive parents are often model citizens on the outside, and beat the crap out of their kids when they think no one is looking.
Luckily, the Tribune saved the day. The church's dirty tactics were brought into the light of day. Now, with the outside world looking in, local church leaders are suddenly silent on this matter. Funny how the leaders went from raging bull to silence in a matter of days. What changed? Only the light of day being shown on the church and its tactics. Just like an abusive parent, the church backed off with the thought that others were looking.
Many church members continue to feel the church policy to announce apostasy is justified, because it is needed to protect church members. Disaffected members, even those that have held very high offices in the church, that have had discussions with true-blue Mormons (TBMs) uniformly experience the same reaction when bringing up inconvenient facts and information. The TBMs immediately shut down and the Kevlar armor comes up like a force field. TBMs already have individual impenetrable armor, they have no need of an announcement to ‘protect’ them from anything or anybody. To believe differently is simply denying reality. The announcement tactic is pure cruelty and nothing more.
When examining the road I have travelled, some themes emerge. The church policy, as implemented by my leaders, has chosen clumsy ‘damage control’ tactics over familial relations at every turn. From the first visit with Bishop Palmer and subsequent interrogation of my brothers to the action of President Molina to block my attempt to leave the church quietly, the church agenda is crystal clear to me. Any dissenter must be painted as a monster to protect the obedient sheep, and this is to be done at all cost. This policy is as antiquated as its geriatric leaders, and is incompatible with a free-speech society endowed with critical thinking skills. It will generally do more harm than good, which is abundantly evident by the public outcry over my case.
From start to finish, my journey is the end result of perfect implementation of church policy:
• Teach Lyndon only the faithful history – this was done perfectly.
• If Lyndon discovers all the skeletons, reassure him that more intelligent people than Lyndon have already worked it all out. Both Palmer and Molina told me this, in virtually the same words.
• If this strategy does not work, put Lyndon on ‘restriction’, which will insulate him from the active members of the church. Do not allow him to have any church responsibilities.
• If Lyndon continues to attend and begins to influence others to think for themselves, hold a Disciplinary Council and excommunicate him for apostasy. This will surely drive him away and keep him from influencing other members.
• If Lyndon is unwilling to submit to the basic rule of keeping his mouth shut after excommunication, announce to the congregations in the area that he is an apostate and cannot be trusted.
I am only the symptom, the disease is church policy. My story is not about the failure of Palmer and Molina to treat me fairly. It is about poor church policy. It is about the religious fanaticism that permeates the church, which allows good men and women to act irrationally and with cruelty and feel no remorse. Brigham Young felt no remorse for the victims of the Mountain Meadow Massacre. The Al Qaeda feels no remorse for the WTC attacks. This is the hallmark of fanaticism. Only a fanatic would choose to sacrifice family relations to ‘protect the good name of the church’. Only a fanatic would ostracize a family member because of a religious belief. Only a fanatic would suggest that a questioning member stop researching and trust others to find the answers. Only a fanatic would assume that religious belief choices would break up a marriage. Luckily, I am blest to have a wife that believes in me. She may not choose my path, but our relationship, partnership, and love goes much deeper than individual religious choices. I count myself very fortunate in this respect.
Interestingly, damage control is not a stranger to the LDS church, or other churches for that matter. In the spring of 1844, Joseph Smith faced losing everything after William Law published the first and only edition of the ‘Nauvoo Expositor’, which exposed the secrets of polygamy. Smith knew it was all true, which is why he had to destroy the press. This touched off a string of events that ultimately led to his death. In more recent history, we continue to see the trend as the church closed the historical archives in 1980, purchased forged documents from Mark Hofmann in 1984-5 (some of which were for solely for concealment), and the charge from BK Packer that only the ‘faithful’ history should be taught to the Saints.
Some have asked if I intend to write a book – the answer is no. The great works of Grant Palmer, Simon Southerton, Fawn Brodie, Juanita Brooks, Arza Evans, Duwayne Anderson, and others treat the subject matter quite thoroughly. As pertaining to my personal experiences, I view my journey as being somewhat unremarkable compared to many that have preceded me, the ‘September Six’ being a prime example.
From the various people I have chatted with since the first article was published, it seems to me that the discovery process is universally all-consuming for members that feel compelled to find all the buried skeletons. Some complete their research in as little as 6 months, I took 2 years, others take much longer. Some complete their research and decide to stay in the church. Other disaffected members will tell you that the range of emotions during this period covers the full spectrum: denial, disillusionment, anxiety, anguish, distrust, astonishment, grief, incredulity, anger, understanding, exhilaration, and finally joy. It is a long roller coaster ride and takes effort, but is well worth it. After I became satisfied that the ‘restoration’ was a series of illusions, I documented my research so that I could remember what I had found to be the key points, along with the psychological aspects that are part and parcel to the LDS belief system. My summary is now on-line at http://www.mormonthink.com/lamborn.htm
It was not possible for me to really understand the mechanisms associated with LDS mindset or fully recover until I had thoroughly examined the psychology woven into the fabric of Mormonism. Outsiders scoff at the phrase ‘recovery from Mormonism’, but for me it has been and continues to be very real.
The positive realities of the LDS church are astounding. The emphasis on family, service, education, self-sufficiency, community involvement, scouting, disaster relief, etc., speak for themselves. What becomes really sad, and I know this happens regularly in the church, is when church members have to tell lies in order to continue to participate in the wonderful church programs and sense of community and fellowship. Meanwhile, those who cannot stomach intellectual dishonest really have no choice but to leave. Many have commented that a ‘reformation’ needs to occur in the church in order to stem this tide of disaffected members. The General Authorities in Salt Lake City (SLC) have to be very concerned with the rising number of resignations. I am told by a source that asked for anonymity that what used to be a staff of two people in the early 80’s processing resignations has had to be increased to 10 people to handle the work load, and that church authorities are briefed weekly on resignation statistics. (LDS church authorities may be willing to verify the staff size dynamics). Some have suggested that the resignations have reached ~100,000 per year, which is staggering.
*************Here is some Q&A [ET edit: I received from an interested reader]*****************
Thank you so much for granting me the opportunity to ask you some questions regarding the circumstances leading up to your loss of faith in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and your subsequent excommunication.
Thanks in advance for your responses!
1. What was the extent of your knowledge of polygamy and its practice in the early Church prior to learning of JS's polygamy through Krakauer's book?
I had been told that most or all of the sealings of women to JS were after his death. My good friend Russell Bowers indicated that he had been told the same thing. I perpetuated this distortion while I was serving a mission and feel terrible about it.
2. At the time you found out about Joseph Smith's polygamy, what were your feelings regarding how you learned about it?
At first, I doubted the source. After verifying with several sources, I was disillusioned. Then came the hunger to know what other skeletons had been obscured from the view of a life-long member, returned missionary, 4-time Elders Quorum President, former Gospel Doctrine and current High Priest Group instructor, and former Stake Mission Presidency member.
3. If you had learned about JS's polygamy from official Church sources, i.e. a Sunday school manual, Conference talk, or CES manual, do you think you would have reacted differently to the information?
Absolutely. I may not have embarked on a research quest at all.
4. How did your ward leaders find out about your disbelief?
Regularly scheduled temple recommend interview with Bishop Larkin Palmer.
5. What conversations took place with your bishop?
I presented questions about Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon, the translation process, etc. He urged me to trust more intelligent men that had already worked all these things out. No need for me to do it all on my own - just a waste of time. Just pray and believe.
Then he went into damage control mode. Who else had I been talking to? Was I affiliated with any apostate groups? I mentioned that I discuss things regularly with my brothers. The following week, all the bishops of my brothers had received a phone call and each of my brothers got a visit from the Men in Black over the next 30 days. They were each questioned about their beliefs. I was very angry with breach of confidentiality and potential for strained family relations. I wrote a letter to Bishop Palmer expressing my disappointment with him immediately. His defense was his charge to 'protect the good name of the church'. A completely unsatisfactory answer for me.
5. How did this issue reach a stake level?
The Stake President was in one of my High Priest Group lessons where I challenged the truth test of the Book of Mormon.
6. During this time, how were you discussing your new discoveries with other members of the stake and ward? How did other Church members react to your dissent?
I shared information with a few, reactions were mixed.
7. How did ward and stake leaders attempt to resolve your concerns with Church history? What materials, pro-, anti- or otherwise did you consult as you researched the truthfulness of the Church?
I was directed to the FAIR and FARMS websites, which I found to be of limited value. Some of the apologist arguments are good, but most are weak. I read the Comprehensive History of the Church, portions of the Journal of Discourses, Studies of the Book of Mormon by BH Roberts, Mormon Enigma, Insiders View by Grant Palmer, Keystone of Mormonism by Evans, No Man Knows My History by Brodie, By His Own Hand Upon Papyrus.
8. At what time did you decide to surrender your Church membership? How did you let President Molina know about your decision?
During my third visit with Molina, he suggested that my membership records be removed. I think he was tired of dealing with me discussing issues with members and given them true history summaries. I was emboldened by the PBS program "The Mormons" to share more often.
9. Do you feel your excommunication was a preemptive strike to discredit you?
Yes - completely. I asked Molina for a quiet exit and got a summons instead.
10. Do you still wish to remain a part of the Church socially in spite of your excommunication?
I have mixed feelings. Sometimes I do, sometimes I think it is not worth the discomfort listening to the brainwashed drivel every Sunday. Time will tell.
11. How do you feel about being branded an "apostate"?
It is a badge of honor.
12. Did you at one time believe in the literal historicity of events and characters in the Bible and Book of Mormon? What are your feelings on those subjects now?
Yes, I totally believed. Now I think that people that still believe in the historicity of the book fall into one of three categories:
a. They have not examined the evidence.
b. They are incapable, intellectually, to grasp the conclusivity of the evidence. It is truly overwhelming.
c. They cannot be objective while examining the evidence. Ironically, it is a combination of fear and false pride (and perhaps mind control) that blocks the neural receptors and prevents normal objective evaluation of the data.
13. How do you feel about the moral teachings of the LDS Church?
Generally good stuff. A little too rigid with the sexual sins, though. Repression breeds obsession. Salt Lake County regularly rates in the top five for per-capita hits on porno sites for a reason.
14. What are your feelings towards LDS apologists and scholars who are familiar with the issues your raised but have not taken the same path you have?
In most cases, their desire to prove the church true at all costs has become a game to them, an obsession. Hugh Nibley admitted as much. Their desire to know the truth is either weak or been extinguished.
Thanks again for this opportunity -- I hope through this we can better understand the process believers go through when they discover information challenging to their faith. I think only through understanding and dialogue can we reach a point where disaffected believers are treated appropriately rather than branded as heretics and chased out of the Church.
On a lighter note, I had a co-worker come up to me and ask me what ‘excommunication for apostasy’ really accomplishes. It is akin to a boss, after reading a resignation, saying: “Hmmn, looks like you are quitting, well, just for that, YOU ARE FIRED!!!”