Ultimately I don’t believe the Mormon Church is God’s one and only true church led by God himself through revelations to his prophets because I could not get an answer to any prayers or even comfort for any of my questions that arose regarding the church and God. At a certain point I realized that I could not make logical (and believable) sense of all the problems associated with Mormon history and doctrine and that the only chance I had to believe in the church as I once had was to have a spiritual experience that could give me comfort from my questioning (and yes I understand that many people have studied the same things as I have and who are much smarter and know the issues much better than I do and yet they are still faithful, believing Mormons, I speak only for myself and my own experience).
I did not expect anything I would consider miraculous. I just needed something I knew was from God and not from my own emotions. I was looking for something that I knew was the Spirit as taught in the scriptures and which I believed was how God answered prayers and communicated to his children. It has been suggested by my Bishop that I may be sign seeking. I thought I was following the admonitions in the scriptures-Matt. 7:7 “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.” I had come to fear, as I believe now, that the experiences that I had previous in my life that I credited to the spirit of God were actually self-induced emotions and feelings. I prayed nearly every day for something that would help me believe. I asked God to guide my mind. If my thinking was wrong or misguided, I asked him to help make it right and guide me to truth. I prayed, fasted, meditated, read the Book of Mormon and other scriptures and generally tried to open myself up to God’s communications. I also (for the most part) stopped investigating church history and going to message boards during this time just so I could clear my mind of these influences. At a certain point I gave up reading the Book of Mormon because it was literally causing me to lose faith even more. I prayed and had the resolution to follow God’s will whatever it may be but in reality I really wanted God’s will to be that the Mormon Church was true and somewhat tried to make that answer happen while still being open to other answers or any type of communication from God and his spirit. After about 18 months of this I finally gave up because the whole process was so depressing and fruitless. If anything, I became more convinced that the church and God were man-made institutions. If there is a God, for some reason he did not answer my prayers in any way that I could recognize. [As an aside, I no longer believe that feelings and emotions (the so-called Spirit) are a very reliable way of determining religious/spiritual truth. However, at the time my frame of mind was that if I could get an answer/comfort that I really believed was from God then I could shelve my questions and strive to remain faithful to the gospel. That issues deserves its own essay.]
The Mormon Church, as a foundational claim, believes that they are “the one and only true church of God” and that the church is lead by God himself through revelation to his prophets. This creates a black and white, right or wrong dichotomy. There is not a lot of room for any gray areas or for disagreement of any kind. Therefore, if I come to the conclusion that polygamy was not inspired by God and was never a righteous principle or that the Book of Abraham was not a translation of the papyri then I must conclude the church is not true and that God does not lead the prophets and church. This is not a dichotomy that I created but is taught and ingrained by the church itself.
President Gordon B. Hinckley said-
"Well, it's either true or false. If it's false, we're engaged in a great fraud. If it's true, it's the most important thing in the world. Now, that's the whole picture. It is either right or wrong, true or false, fraudulent or true. (Gordon B. Hinckley, Interview "The Mormons"; PBS Documentary, April 2007)
President Joseph Fielding Smith said-
"Mormonism, as it is called, must stand or fall on the story of Joseph Smith. He was either a prophet of God, divinely called, properly appointed and commissioned, or he was one of the biggest frauds this world has ever seen. There is no middle ground. If Joseph Smith was a deceiver, who willfully attempted to mislead the people, then he should be exposed; his claims should be refuted, and his doctrines shown to be false, for the doctrines of an impostor cannot be made to harmonize in all particulars with divine truth." (Doctrines of Salvation, Vol. 1, p. 188).
There are many other quotes that emphasize this black/white, truth/fraud dichotomy. You cannot pick and chose which things you believe and which things you do not believe about the church and still be accepted in full fellowship in the church as Elder Maxwell states:
Our relationship to living prophets is not one in which their sayings are a smorgasbord from which we may take only that which pleases us. We are to partake of all that is placed before us, including the spinach, and to leave a clean plate! [Neal A. Maxwell, Things As They Really Are (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1978), p. 74
So I feel my hand is forced. I am told that I cannot pick and choose what I believe and agree with. According to the church, I must take it all. I reject that belief as well because it lends to the idea that it is either all bad or all good. Certainly it is neither. So on personal levels I can see and make use of the good things the church has taught me and disregard the problems I see the church has knowing all the while that it is only an organization trying to do what is right and not God’s one true church. However, I cannot say this publicly and expect to remain in good standing in the church on an official level or a cultural/social level. Meaning, if I say publicly what I really think I will be officially disciplined and/or de facto disciplined culturally/socially through strained friendships, gossip, shunning etc.
So I reject the belief that the Mormon Church is the one and only true church, led and directed by God himself through revelation to his prophets. I believe men and not God established the church. These men probably/possibly/hopefully had mostly good intentions, but they made many wrong and immoral decisions in the process. They knowingly told pious lies/deceptions that they felt were justified by the end result they hoped to bring about. I believe the church today is run by good men with good intentions that can and do error. I believe they continue to tell pious lies and feel justified by the good they feel comes from the lies/deceptions (what would church leaders do if they knew a member gave deceptive/half-true answers in the temple recommend interview feeling justified by the good that comes from their deception/lies?). There are way too many examples that prove this to be the case in my opinion. Again, while I can agree with and accept much of their teachings I am told that I must accept all of it in order to remain a member in good standing. The notion is the more obedient you are to the Brethren the more righteous you are. In the church, there is no honor in respectful disagreement with the Brethren and church leaders but great honor in pure (some may call it blind) obedience. When a member sincerely believes that the prophet or other church leader is God’s representative to them then one feels obedience to their counsel is obedience to God. This can create a situation where one may do things or believe things that go against their own moral compass or reasoning in order to be in compliance with what they believe is God’s will. Research the Mountain Meadows Massacre or discrimination against blacks for examples of this unhealthy and dangerous mindset.
I reject the notion that the only way to true happiness in this life and eternal reward in a potential hereafter is through obedience to the teachings and ordinances found in the Mormon Church. There are many things the church teaches and does right including Christ like love, forgiveness, service, family importance etc. However, all of these same things can be taught and internalized in people without the Mormon Church’s help. The church likes to think it has a monopoly or trademark on these things (or at least that they do it the best) but experience proves that there are many good and moral people who achieve these things without any kind of organized religion or even a belief in god. In addition, I am no longer willing to trust the teachings of a church that I believe has clearly demonstrated wrong and some times immoral teachings (polygamy, blacks and priesthood, blood atonement, temple vengeance oaths, temple penalty oaths, rape causes loss of virtue, homosexuality is a choice) and will most certainly do so again in the future. I believe the current Mormon teachings toward homosexuals are wrong and immoral. I think it would be better to accept homosexuals and to teach morality and monogamy in their homosexual relationships. I believe the patriarchal order of things is also wrong and that it does indeed create a degree of inequality between men and women and unfortunately see this influence in my own way of thinking and habits.
So for these reasons, and many others, I reject the Mormon Church as the one and only true church led by God through his prophets. In addition, I reject the idea that there is one true religion or spiritual philosophy. If there is indeed a God (which I am agnostic about), I do not believe he is this all-powerful, all-loving being who is intimately involved in the lives of all humans. I hope there is a God but am agnostic about it being so.
I do not pretend to have answers to life’s questions but believe that love, kindness, honesty, respect, integrity, charity, and the golden rule are principles that one should strive to live and which will generally bring one happiness in their life and fulfilling relationships with those around them. I believe life is best lived as a journey that needs to be experienced and fulfilled and the journey itself and not the destination is the purpose. Life should not be lived as a testing ground in which you fulfill all the requirements and try and learn all the answers (and handshakes (sorry, I couldn’t help myself)) in order to go to graduate school.
I believe the best way to come to truth is through thoughtful reasoning and logic guided by personal experience and the consideration of other’s experiences and reasoning. I believe one should not be so rigid in their thinking that one is unwilling or afraid to reconsider or examine their beliefs when better information, reasoning, and experience become available. That is not to say that one should allow their beliefs to be moved to and fro by the winds of popular or current thought. When seeking truth one needs to have courage and a willingness to honestly assess legitimate information and experiences even if they contradict one’s strongly held beliefs/views. I also realize that two honest truth seekers can examine the same evidence, information, and consideration of other’s experiences and come to two very different conclusions about the matter. And that is ok. I can respect and appreciate a well-considered difference of opinion. I have difficulty having the same level of respect and appreciation for those who are unwilling to honestly assess legitimate information and then tell me they already know the Truth and therefore do not need to assess any more information, and that includes myself. However, I realize why people do this; it is very difficult to admit that one could be wrong about things that have played such an important and vital role in one’s thinking, mindset, and life. Cognitive dissonance is very real and can be very uncomfortable and distressing. I also realize that many others who I love and respect have come to different conclusions than I have about the church and I hope to show respect for their beliefs in the same way that I want them to respect mine.
In conclusion, I believe the church is an imperfect religion like so many other organizations and religions. I recognize that it does many wonderful and good things and that it brings happiness and fulfillment in many people’s lives. I can respect and appreciate these aspects of the church. I also recognize that is has had, and continues to have, many problems, some of which in my opinion are immoral and wrong. I do not believe God leads and guides the Mormon Church through prophets but that it is led by sincere men who really believe in what they are doing but who can and do have the capacity to make major and ultimately immoral and unhealthy decisions. I thank the church for the many good things it does and the many good principles it teaches and that I have learned from. However, I will no longer allow it to be the supreme guide and source of spirituality in my life. I am going to take on that responsibility for myself.