The LDS church teaches that people like me, i.e., former members of the church, are destined to be miserable, and that we are in the clutches of Satan. We are as Judas--traitors who would kill Christ if we could. This sounds harsh, and indeed it is. It sounds like one of those old 19th-century teachings (like blood atonement) that the church has swept under the rug. But, alas, this is one of the old teachings that is still alive and kicking in the modern church. In the current manual Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, published at the direction of the First Presidency (and the only extra-scriptural material permitted to be used by Priesthood and Relief Society teachers in the church) is found lesson number 27, titled "Beware the Bitter Fruits of Apostasy." From that lesson comes this quote, which is representative of the tenor and thrust of the entire lesson:
There is a superior intelligence bestowed upon such as obey the Gospel with full purpose of heart, which, if sinned against, the apostate is left naked and destitute of the Spirit of God, and he is, in truth, nigh unto cursing, and his end is to be burned. When once that light which was in them is taken from them they become as much darkened as they were previously enlightened, and then, no marvel, if all their power should be enlisted against the truth, and they, Judas-like, seek the destruction of those who were their greatest benefactors. . . .
. . .
When you joined this Church you enlisted to serve God. When you did that you left the neutral ground, and you never can get back on to it. Should you forsake the Master you enlisted to serve, it will be by the instigation of the evil one, and you will follow his dictation and be his servant.
I believe that one reason why active Mormons often choose not to associate at all with former members of the church is that they actually believe that former members are possessed by Satan, as the above quote from Joseph Smith unequivocally states.
To my former ward brothers and sisters:
To paraphrase Ronald Reagan, here we go again. I thought that my posting of Elder Jeffrey R. Holland's "Tongue of Angels" talk a few months back when rumors were swirling about me in my former ward might have had some impact. I thought perhaps you, my Mormon friends, would "listen to a prophet's voice" even if you would not listen to mine. I thought maybe those of you who claim to follow Jesus Christ would stop engaging in gossip and rumor-mongering. I guess I was wrong. It saddens me to learn that a rumor concerning my personal life is being spread around in the ward where my son still attends Scouts and my daughter attends Activity Girls.
But what really saddens me is not so much that people would spread a lie about me but that the lie itself is considered scandalous in your Mormon culture. That's exactly what I think needs to change. You see, the rumor burning up the ward phone lines is that I left the church to take up with a gay lover!
I look forward to the day when a rumor like that will be about as salacious as a rumor that, say, I sometimes forget to floss, or that I don't make my bed every morning, or that I re-use my dryer sheets. That a rumor I am gay is considered so scurrilous by the members of my former ward is itself a commentary on today's Mormon culture: narrow-minded, bigoted, and homophobic. To his credit, one person from the ward (yes, only one) has risen above such pettiness, alerting me that the rumor was spreading. But what of the rest of you? You who hear something like that and, instead of sending me an email or picking up the phone to call me, call up someone else in the ward and ask "have you heard it? Is it true?" What do you have to say for yourself? You who call yourselves disciples of Jesus Christ. Are you not ashamed?
And what of you who started this rumor? Did you think it would hurt me? It hasn't. First, it is not true. Second, if it were true, I would not hide it as I think being gay is not something one need hide or apologize for. So, if I were gay, I'd be more than happy to let everyone know it. I'll go one step further. Not only am I not hurt by the suggestion, I am actually a little flattered. All the gay people I know are exceptional. I enjoy their association and value their friendship and admire their courage as they deal every day with bigots like you. I stand by them in their struggle for equal rights and the full acceptance in society. I'm not gay but I am honored to know that some people might think I am.
I know why you started this rumor. I have been torn about how much I should say about that. I don't want to hurt your wife and children, so I have decided, for their sake, to say nothing here to reveal your identity and motive. It was, however, monumentally stupid for you to start this rumor, knowing as you do that I really have nothing to lose by revealing your own secret.
The rumor itself is interesting from a sociological standpoint, in what it says about Mormonism. I have been very open about my issues with the LDS church. I have chronicled my journey out of the church here on this blog for the last 2 1/2 years. I've posted about Mormon history, doctrine, and practice. I've identified 96 specific reforms I think the church ought to adopt. And I've talked about the value differences I have with Mormonism. I believe in freedom of thought and expression; the church does not. I believe in honesty and openness in teaching history; the church does not. I believe in the equality of the sexes; the church does not. I believe in racial equality; the church does not. I believe in science; the church does not (when it conflicts with dogma, which is often). And so on.
But many Mormons seem to have a very hard time believing that anyone could really leave the church because (a) it's simply not true and (b) personal integrity demands it. No, for many Mormons people leave the church only because (a) they want to sin or (b) they were offended. The rumor that I am gay fills a cognitive need for some true-believing Mormons--it provides them with a "reason" for my departure that they can understand. Brother Equality didn't leave the church because he discovered the truth about its doctrinal and historical claims, or because the church is lacking in ethical values. No, Brother Equality really left because he wanted to sin--with his gay lover! It's a much more satisfying reason for the devout believer. It requires no examination of the church, no self-reflection about the things one believes and the values one embraces. My departure can simply be attributed to my own personal weakness and moral failure. And to a believing Mormon, what epitomizes better a condition of personal moral depravity than homosexuality?
So, I understand the allure of the rumor, and I understand why it would be almost impossible for a believing Mormon to resist spreading it. But it's still disappointing to witness it. And it confirms to me, once again, that the decision I made to resign earlier this year was absolutely the right one. I am so glad to be free from the mindfuck that makes people think that way.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints claims to be "politically neutral." It also claims that its members are free to vote according to their conscience and that there are no political tests for membership in the church. Indeed, the LDS church encourages its members to "study the issues and candidates carefully and prayerfully, and then to vote for and actively support those you believe will most nearly carry out your ideas of good government."
But now the LDS church is threatening to discipline a faithful member from Nebraska (Andrew Callahan, a high priest) for "conduct unbecoming a member" and for "apostasy." His crime? Disagreeing with church leaders on a political issue--Proposition 8 in California, which the church supports. Proposition 8 would take away the legal right that gays and lesbians currently enjoy under the California state constitution to marry. You can read more about Callahan (who posts online under the name Flat Lander) at the Further Light and Knowledge discussion board here.
Callahan helped start a web site called Signing for Something. The purpose of Signing for Something was to give Latter-day Saints who had followed the First Presidency's admonition to study the issues and engage in the political process to voice their opposition to Proposition 8 and encourage church leaders to reconsider using church resources in a state political campaign. The idea was to let church leaders know that a significant number of LDS church members do not support enshrining ignorance and bigotry into the state constitution but rather believe in equal protection under the law, individual liberty, and tolerance for those who may not share church members' religious beliefs.
With this site, Callahan joined a growing number of Latter-day Saints expressing their love and support for gay and lesbian Mormons. Another site shedding light on the challenges faced by being Mormon and gay is the Mormons for Marriage site. These sites, along with yet others such Understanding LDS Homosexuality show that a small but growing number of rank-and-file Mormons are willing not only to disagree with Mormon church leaders' homophobic statements and policies, but are willing to do so in a public manner. That's a significant thing. Disagreeing with the Brethren, though highly discouraged in Mormon circles, is generally not something that will result in church "discipline" (i.e, disfellowship or excommunication). But open, vocal opposition to the Brethren, even on a purely political issue, is perhaps the quickest way to get an "invitation" to a "court of love" in the LDS church. Absolute loyalty to the LDS church, evidenced by an uncritical, unblinking obedience to the male church hierarchy, is the highest value in Mormonism. Callahan is now running afoul of it, and will likely pay the price by being excommunicated. That Callahan has been threatened with church discipline for "conduct unbecoming a member" when all he was doing was getting involved in a political issue and exercising his conscience, is revealing of just how far LDS church leaders will go to ensure that their vision of perfect conformity and bland homogeneity is realized.
Update: since I first drafted this post, Callahan received word from his Stake President that no church court would be held "in his behalf" (the euphemisms in Mormonism are legion) until AFTER the election. This merely confirms that the whole matter is political. If his crimes were spiritual, why would the election timing affect their decision at all? The LDS church simply did not want the negative publicity that would swirl around Callahan's excommunication, should it occur before the election. Now the church can wait to cut him off and hope the public relations nightmare can be contained.
I've added on my left sidebar a number of links to what I consider the best web pages on the Book of Mormon. Several address the DNA/Lamanite issue. DNA studies have struck a death blow to the notion that the Book of Mormon is an actual history of the ancestors of the Native Americans who populated the Western Hemisphere when European explorers arrived.
There are also two sites I want to call out for special attention to anyone interested in engaging in an in-depth look at significant issues relating to the question of Book of Mormon historicity from an archaeological and anthropological standpoint. The first is the site called The Book of Mormon in Mesoamerica. The second is a blog associated with that site. It is impossible to read through the wealth of information on these sites without coming away with a transformed view of the Book of Mormon. Anyone in or out of the LDS church with an interest in the Book of Mormon ought to pull up a chair, pop some popcorn, and set aside some hours for a little self-education.
BTW, if any of my readers have suggestions for other sites on the Book of Mormon, please do not hesitate to suggest them in the comments or drop me an email at equalitytime at gmail dot com. Thanks.
Every once in a while, I stumble on a web site or blog that has information on Mormonism presented in a unique way, or which contains information not commonly found elsewhere. For those looking for just such a site, I recommend clicking right here. It's a site by a former LDS missionary who has recently become disillusioned with the faith (sound familiar?). His latest post is on the racist doctrines of the LDS church (which have never been repudiated; only swept under the rug). Since tomorrow is Juneteenth, and this month is the 30th anniversary of the "policy change" declaration through which God decided He was no longer racist, it seems an appropriate time to send readers of Equality Time over there.
As readers of Equality Time know, I resigned my membership in February of this year. The bishop in the ward in which I reside and the stake president here in Plano, Texas are friends of mine and handled my resignation with speed and courtesy, which I appreciate. In meeting with the bishop and stake president after tendering my resignation, I told the stake president (who had only been set apart a week or two earlier) that while my resignation may be the first he processes, it certainly would not be the last.
Well, my words were prophetic. Sure enough, a friend of mine (Lunar Quaker, who occasionally posts here and around the Disaffected Mormon Underground) residing in a different ward in the Plano Stake, last week sent his resignation letter to his bishop. Unfortunately, his bishop handled things quite differently from the way mine did. I can't believe that this represents a change in policy or direction from the good man who is stake president here. I sincerely hope that it is not the policy of the Plano Stake to have bishops or other ecclesiastical leaders harass people who want to resign their membership and have their names removed from the church records. I hope that the stake president, if he finds out about the way my friend was treated, will do the right thing and counsel with and chastise LQ's bishop for his belligerent, unChristlike actions. LQ's story, in his own words, after the jump.
If Jesus were to walk into an LDS church meeting today, how would He be received? If the latest article in a church magazine on the subject of dress and grooming is any indication, Jesus very likely would be asked to leave. Why? Well, let’s start with hair: in all the pictures I have seen of Jesus, He has long hair. And, typically, He is shown wearing open-toed shoes. According to an LDS church General Authority, such things are offensive to God.
The Salt Lake Tribune published this morning in its online edition an article about Peter and Mary Danzig, the LDS couple harassed out of the church because of Peter's letter to the editor supporting BYU Professor Jeff Nielsen's opinion piece criticizing the LDS church's political stance on gay marriage. I blogged about this here and here.
The Tribune was kind enough to link here to Equality Time and to the full story written by Peter himself. So, to all Salt Lake Tribune readers, welcome! I hope you enjoy my blog. Feel free to comment.
Yesterday I met with two friends of mine from the LDS church. One is the newly installed Stake President in Plano. The other is Bishop over the area in which I reside, with whom I served as Executive Secretary. We met at the church for about an hour to discuss the logistics of handling my recent resignation as well as to talk about what my thoughts and feelings are regarding church contact with my wife and children who remain on the membership rolls of the LDS church.
Both men I consider friends and both expressed warm feelings of love and friendship toward me, despite feeling a certain sadness about my decision (I told them I understood why, from their perspective, they might be sad, but I also explained why I think such feelings are misplaced). I extended words of appreciation to them for how they have treated my family, and for their continuing friendship. It was a productive meeting and while I don't care to go into all the details of what we discussed, I do want to say that I think these men exemplify what is good about Mormonism. I think they are setting a good example for how heretics or apostates can and should be treated: with dignity, respect, and true love. We left with positive feelings toward each other. They allowed me to express some of my thoughts and frustrations with church culture; I allowed them to express their testimonies without criticism. We disagreed agreeably. I am sometimes accused of only looking for or talking about the negative things I see in the LDS church. So I thought I would take this opportunity to tip my hat to these two fine men. I hope that members of the ward and stake over which they preside will follow their example.
After sending my resignation letter via email to the LDS Bishop over the area in which I reside last night, I sent the following email to members of the ward's Elders Quorum:
Hey, guys. It's been awhile since I got a message from the quorum. Hope there aren't too many out-of-date addresses here. Anyway, I just thought I would alert you to the fact that as of today I am no longer a member of the LDS church, having voluntarily withdrawn my membership. I hope we can all continue to be friends despite our divergence in religious beliefs. If any of you are interested in learning more about my decision, feel free to visit my web log at www.equalitysblog.typepad.com, where today I posted an open letter to my Mormon friends and family. If any of you would like to follow up with me, feel free to contact me at my blog or by email at email@example.com. Thanks.
This was greeted generally with silence from the quorum members. I received only one email from a fellow ward member and friend of mine expressing sadness at my decision but offering me best wishes and the prospect of continuing friendship, for which I am grateful. He is a true friend and a true disciple of Christ.
This morning, however, I was greeted with the following message from a member of the quorum whom I have never met:
As you have voluntarily taken steps to disassociate yourself from the quorum, I personally (i.e. speaking for myself, having no authority to speak for the quorum) request that you refrain from sending e-mails to the quorum as a body in the future. As you have made it clear that you do not desire to be contacted by members of the Church to dissuade you from your decision to have your name removed from the Church's records, I similarly do not desire to receive communications from you concerning my decision to enjoy the blessings of the restored gospel. Should you receive an e-mail concerning quorum affairs in the future, I personally ask that you simply delete such e-mail from your system.
I responded to Ben, and to the quorum, with the following:
Wow, was I just on the receiving end of a foot-dusting?But seriously, Ben, you wrote, "I similarly do not desire to receive communications from you concerning my decision to enjoy the blessings of the restored gospel." My email to you and the quorum had nothing to do with my thoughts on your desire to enjoy the blessings you find in your association with the church, nor do I see a need to refrain from emailing you as a group of people I consider my friends. I sincerely wish you all the peace and joy you can find in your spiritual journey within the church and do not seek to dissuade you from the course you are on.I sent the email to the quorum yesterday because I felt you'd each want to know from me, not the rumor mill, that I had done this, and I felt it best to be open about my reasons for doing so to avoid any misunderstandings or misconceptions about me or my reasons for leaving. I respect each of you and have enjoyed your friendship. I find curious your request that I refrain from emailing the quorum as a group, since I pose no threat to you nor do I approach you in anything but friendship and goodwill. Perhaps if you find my correspondence distasteful, you could follow your own advice and "simply delete such e-mail from your system."Peace,Eric
I thought that might be the end of it. Ben responded (just to me this time) with the following:
Eric, I can appreciate your desire to preempt any rumors you fear might be circulating around the Fifth Ward rumor mill (although you surely must know that your e-mail is likely to start more rumors than there otherwise would be); however, please don't pretend to be innocent of any intentions to pollute the minds of quorum members with the same over-intellectualized doubts that have apparently led to your problems. After all, you are the one that provided the link to your blog, which honestly is the only source of anything that I know about you.
E-mails intended for quorum members that happen to wind up in your inbox are no longer intended for you, as you have decided to remove yourself from quorum membership. Thus responding to the entire group when you receive such an e-mail is the action that I hope you will refrain from. Obviously, you have every right to initiate e-mails to the group as a whole, but don't act surprised or play the victim when you send an e-mail to a group organized within the Church you are denouncing and then get responses that such actions are not appreciated.
My response to Ben is as follows:
I am frankly surprised that you consider the minds of the quorum members weak and susceptible to doubt, and furthermore, I'm surprised that you feel that their faith in the church could be shaken by the letter I posted on my blog.If you feel that I've got ulterior motives besides reaching out in friendship to friends I don't wish to lose, then you have allowed the very misconceptions that I wrote about to cloud your judgment here, which is disappointing but not surprising.
Furthermore, I find it interesting that you consider the dissemination of truth to be "polluting." Certainly, if there were anything inaccurate or false on my blog, those who are endowed with knowledge of truth would have no trouble pointing out any erroneous assertions or flaws in reasoning, rather than simply engaging in dismissive name-calling. As far as "over-intellectualization" goes, I do hope you are not so reticent to employ the intellectual acumen with which you have been blessed in favor of the clients employing your legal services as you appear to be with respect to your church's truth claims.
On your notion that my sending the email to the quorum would have the effect of fueling rather than quelling rumors, I beg to differ. You see, no one need question "what's going on with Brother Soderlund?" They can simply read my letter and visit my blog and get it straight from the source which, it seems to me, is the exact opposite of what happens when people talk about someone without ever actually talking to that someone. I realize it is a concept foreign to the experience of many in the church (addressing things head on, that is), but I felt it would be best in this situation. This way, if anyone hears a rumor about me, there will be plenty of people who can say "no, that's not how it went down at all--here's a web site, read about it yourself."
Concerning your charge that I am "playing the victim," nothing could be further from the mark. I am fully empowered. I need not check my thoughts at the door, nor need I refrain from expressing myself out of fear of the consequences that might ensue from such expression. And that's a great feeling. I am willing to wager there are others in our ward who just wish they could say what they really think sometimes. Trust me, it would take a helluva lot more than a couple poorly reasoned emails from someone I have never even met to make me feel victimized.
To my friends from the Plano, Texas 5th Ward and to my other LDS friends and family who have been directed to this blog, I wish you a hearty welcome.
I understand that my disappearance from Sunday meetings and voluntary relinquishment of my callings—first as Executive Secretary, then as Elders’ Quorum secretary, and finally as home teacher—have been the subject of some curiosity and discussion among you. I have been disaffected with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for a little over two years now. The reasons for my disillusionment and disappointment with the church that I have called my spiritual home for nearly two decades are the subject of many of my posts here. If you are interested in knowing why I have chosen to cease active participation in the ward, I refer you to the left sidebar under the caption “Best of Equality.”
The purpose of this post, however, is simply to dispel a few myths or misconceptions and, perhaps, to quell a rumor or two and clear up any misunderstandings that may have arisen. I want you, my friends and family, to know that whatever my thoughts about and feelings toward the LDS church and some of its leaders, my feelings toward you are not diminished or tarnished in any way by my transformation of faith. If I loved you before, I love you now. If we were previously friends, I consider you a friend as much now as ever. In the words of Joseph Smith, “I have enmity toward no man.” I have friends of many faiths and political persuasions, and see no reason to withhold fellowship from any simply because we do not share a particular world-view, ideology, or belief system.
My decision to resign my callings, substantially reduce my attendance at church functions and, more recently, to voluntarily withdraw my membership in the LDS church, (Download resignation_letter_redacted.pdf ) should in no way be viewed as indicative of my feelings toward the members of the LDS church with whom I have always enjoyed a pleasant association. To the contrary, that it has taken more than two years of researching, discussing, deliberating, and soul-searching before finally resigning my membership underscores the gravity of the decision—a choice made all the more difficult because of the love and respect I have for my Mormon family and friends. If the Mormons with whom I have associated in my ward and family were not basically honest, sincere, caring, compassionate folks, then leaving the LDS church would be much less emotionally arduous. In short, my disaffection with the LDS church has neither caused nor resulted from any disaffection with my Mormon friends and family.
One of my stated purposes in maintaining this blog is to dispel some of the myths often promulgated in the LDS church regarding those who “leave the fold.” It is not uncommon for members of the LDS church to speculate on the root cause of “apostasy.” Invariably, the consensus among the faithful is that those who leave do so because they either (a) have been offended or (b) want to sin. A variation on this is that the Mormon lifestyle was just too hard and the departing member was just too weak to “endure to the end.” A third explanation for apostasy often posited is that the “wayward” member is afflicted with a “hard heart” or “pride.” All of these (offense, desire to sin, pride) are the result, it is often surmised, of Satanic influence. The member neglected his duty to pray or read the scriptures, or pay tithing or go to the temple and was thus left open to be tempted of the devil or one of Satan’s millions of demonic henchmen who are constantly on alert for faltering saints, ever hoping to find a chink in the member’s spiritual armor.
Contrary to these clichéd explanations for why people leave the LDS church, in my experience meeting, discussing, corresponding, and counseling with hundreds of disaffected Mormons over the last two years, I have not encountered any who left the LDS church because they were “offended” personally by a fellow member. So, all the cookies and paper hearts in the world (as well-intentioned as they may be) will not bring such people “back to the fold.” Nor have I encountered people who have left the church—believing it to be true—but just wanting to sin. Asking former members “which commandment they didn’t want to keep” might make for a good EFY anecdote, but it bears no resemblance to reality. People who leave the LDS church often (but not always) do make certain lifestyle changes (especially with respect to Sabbath observance, word of wisdom, and tithing). But in the great majority of cases, formerly faithful members who leave do so because they undergo a spiritual change on the inside. The outward manifestation follows the inner transformation.
I did not leave because someone offended me. Nor was there any particular “sin” that I just had to commit or any specific commandment I was incapable or unwilling to keep. This cucumber is perfectly capable of one day becoming a pickle, thank you very much. As for pride, I think that it actually takes a substantial measure of humility to examine one’s belief system critically, to accept the idea that the things you believed in so ardently for years—things you felt with “every fiber” of your being—might not be true. In my view, it is prideful to cling to beliefs for which there is no reasonable basis and to refuse to consider new information, new evidence, new arguments, new points of view. My willingness to re-examine and re-consider my faith, and to change as a result, is the opposite of proud. I think that the nearly two years’ worth of blog posts here put the lie to the notion that I left because I was offended or wanted to sin or that I have been overcome by demonic forces. Far from the picture of apostasy painted in LDS church culture, I am not miserable; I am not tormented; I am not walking in darkness or wallowing in pig slop. I still love my family; I am still gainfully employed; I still smile and wave at the neighbors and the school crossing guard; I still have spiritual experiences; I still have a conscience—indeed, it is my conscience that impelled me to withdraw my association with the church. So, worry not for me or my soul. Do not wonder what you may have said or done to drive me away—you had nothing to do with it. I have nothing but the best of feelings for you, my Mormon friends and family. I wish you Godspeed in your spiritual journey. And it is my sincere wish that we who were friends at first may yet be friends at last.
Not long ago, I featured the blog Images of the Restoration as a "Site of the Week." Well, it appears this wonderful blog with accurate depictions of events from Mormon history is getting some attention in the mainstream religion press. Yesterday, a story appeared at Beliefnet.com about the controversy this little blog has stirred up in Mormon circles. In an article titled Artists Present an Uncensored View of Mormon History, religion writer Menachem Wecker describes the harshly negative reaction of church representatives and leaders to an accurate depiction of Mormon history. Church public relations employee Kim Farah had "zero interest" in commenting on an "anti-Mormon" blog. An LDS Bishop said the artists were "anti-Mormon activists parading as historians" and compared viewing their works of art with asking Hitler his opinion about the Jews.
I find these comments from official representatives and leaders of the LDS church fascinating. What they are saying is that depicting events from Mormon history (taken from official primary church documents) accurately is an "anti-Mormon" enterprise. In short, they are admitting that truth is antithetical to Mormonism. It's a stunning admission, really. Also interesting from the article is the fact that neither the church representatives nor any of the Mormon apologists were able to point out any inaccuracies in the portrayals found on the site. Some criticize the quality of the depictions, but none could contest that the events depicted did not happen. So, what's the problem? If, as some of my Mormon friends assert, the LDS church is not opposed to accurate depictions of its history, why the harsh criticisms and vitriol thrown at this site? It's a curious thing, really.
Presenting my second guest post, from my good friend GDTeacher, who is a moderator at the New Order Mormon discussion board:
The leaders and published teachings of the Mormon Church focus strongly on the inherent virtue and the eternal importance of obedience to God, His commandments, and His leaders. This obedience imperative is common to many conservative religions, of which Mormonism is one. In spite of the church dogma and culture supporting unquestioning obedience to church leaders, people are responsible to make their own ethical and moral decisions. This essay will explore the basis for this Mormon belief in unquestioning obedience, some of the conflicts surrounding it within the church, as well as the potential negative ramifications of this dogma.