How one person struggled to de-tox from Mormonism, and how difficult it can be to de-tox from a bad religious situation.
“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different Gospel – which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be under God’s curse! As we have already said, so now I say again: if anyone is preaching to you a gospel other than what you have accepted, let them be under God’s curse”
Galatians 1:6-10 NIV
“I honor and revere the name of Joseph Smith.I delight to hear it; I love it. I love his doctrine.I feel like shouting Hallelujah, all the time, when I think I even knew Joseph Smith, the Prophet who the Lord raised up. I am bold to say that, Jesus Christ excepted, no better man ever lived or does live upon this earth. I am his witness.
Brigham Young (Discourses)
The first Sunday of the month is called Fast and Testimony in the life of the local LDS church. One Sunday morning in a Helena, Montana Ward a guy in his 40’s (I think…) was about to give his testimony in front of the congregation. As I sat there in my suit this Mormon convert started to speak. He spoke about how he knew the Book of Mormon to be true. How he knew Joseph Smith was a prophet. He spoke about how he knew the Church of Jesus-Christ of Latter-day Saints is the true church. And he also mentioned what his conversion to Mormonism did to his Baptist family. It tore it apart if I remember correctly. The air was tense, the atmosphere so thick you could have cut it with a knife. And during his talk this Mormon cried as he spoke and had to stop a couple of times. As I sat in the pew watching this I heard this woman sniffle and cry behind me. It started to get my attention and then this Mormon who was giving his testimony thanked his Baptist mother for attending and professed his love for her. Against this his mother continued to cry. The tension in the ward that Sunday morning was felt by all. One thing that perplexed me during this stage of life is how many Mormons I was meeting that had converted to Mormonism from either the Baptist or Presbyterian faith. In seeing how conversion can be controversial, it was in this context that I realized how divisive religion can become in family, friends, and life.
During my college days I was up to my neck in LDS theology. I hung out with the LDS Missionaries, and went to about 7,8,9 LDS services. I had some doubts, and questions and wanted to resolve those before getting baptized. But I also believed my doubts would be worked out. I believed the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to be true, and that Joseph Smith was a prophet but I wanted to resolve some of my doubts first. The Mormon missionaries would ask me repeatedly and regularly about baptism. And it was during this time that I confided in another Mormon college student that I was investigating Mormonism and would probably convert. In response to this news this female jumped up and hugged me, and was excited for me. Almost 20 years later I can still feel that hug. Against all this I threw myself into LDS theological material and books, and in the course of time I expected all my doubts and problems to pan out and the LDS faith to be standing. I was a 21, 22 year old naive college student. One problem that tore me apart was a verse that I stumbled across in the Bible…Galatians 1:6-10 which was burned on my brain. I had heard the Gospel by Mormon missionaries and the way in which the Gospel was restored in upstate New York to a poor, uneducated man named Joseph Smith. I had heard the story of the Angel Moroni and how the Gospel was revealed again – an attempt by God to restore it from Apostasy. Yet hearing the story of the Angel Moroni had so bothered me especially in the context of Paul’s warning about an angel bringing forth a new gospel. In a later post I would like to journal my cognitive dissonance with Mormonism.
So what happened? In the course of time I realized I was mislead and deceived. In some Catholic and Evangelical Christian material it was written that male Mormons believed that they would become a God. “Hogwash” I thought, and when I raised it to the Mormon missionaries I was told to stop reading “anti-Mormon” material. It was in a Mormon Sunday school class called “Gospel Doctrine” that they were teaching about how “we’re going to become like Heavenly Father” and prodded and confused I raised my hand and asked, “Do you believe you are going to become a God in heaven?” I still remember the look, and the Mormon missionaries telling me “Eagle, we have a lot more to discuss…” And in the chair in a Mormon class I realized that I was lied to. The foundation of Mormonism had cracks, the dam was about to burst, and things started to implode. In time I focused on distancing myself from Mormonism, and how I dealt with being deceived, and that is going to be the focus of this post.
Pushing Back and Living with Scars
When I realized that the LDS Church had deceived me I was stunned. It was during that time my cognitive dissonance was shattered. Pushing back from Mormonism in a small town like Helena, Montana was hard. Why? Because I kept running into Mormons from time to time in life. There were a number of things I did, I stopped calling the Mormon missionaries, and when they started calling I didn’t return their calls. I didn’t associate with the LDS college students at school. I remember one time going into a Safeway grocery store in Helena for food, and walking into an aisle and seeing someone from the Ward shopping. I pulled out, ducked and hid in another aisle. I was trying to avoid being spotted and I didn’t want to face the question, ‘Eagle where were you? We haven’t seen you?” I hid in that aisle in a grocery store waiting for it to be safe to emerge. One of the Mormon college students I knew had started his 2 year mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Mexico. I still remember the letters he wrote me encouraging me on into the church. I then wrote this Mormon missionary a letter telling him that I believed the LDS faith to be a cult, and that I was no longer going to convert. In time I got the most desperate note I was to receive in my life. In a note this Mormon missionary pleaded with me not to lose my testimony of Joseph Smith. He wrote about how the church was true and asked, “would I be doing a mission for a Gospel that I didn’t believe in?” He apologized profusely for how he treated me in college. He apologized for being rude and insensitive to my feelings. But he begged in a desperate tone not to walk away from Mormonism. The letter struck me and I reacted by taking that letter and throwing it away. Trashing it was very symbolic to what I wanted to do to the Mormon Church.
From 1996 until 2009 I struggled with my past involvement in Mormonism. It haunted me, bothered me and weighed heavily on my soul. I went through a variety of emotions over the years, these are some of them.
- I was angry that I was deceived. I was livid as to what I had vested my life into. I had wasted a good chunk of it in looking into Mormonism. Sometimes I seethed in anger over what had occurred.
- I wanted an apology by the Mormon Church. There were times that I wanted the Mormon missionaries to contact me and say, “Eagle we lied, we deceived you the church isn’t true and we are sorry for toying with your emotions.” I felt this way for years and my heart longed to hear an apology.
- I felt like I had to warn people about Mormonism and save them from it. I felt like I had to preach about why its a cult. This happened in the early 2000’s and led me to speak about it at Cru at Marquette University, and to go into chat rooms online at places like FAIR and debate and warn other investigators about Mormonism. I didn’t want other people to be burned by it.
- I was scared…what would happen if I had a Mormon boss, or co-worker who learned about my past…would they try and convert me? Would they try and punish me for not converting? Would I face discrimination? Could I have a friendship with a Mormon, or would they walk away from me when they learned I walked away from it. True I never was baptized, but I was close. Does that qualify me to be an apostate? I don’t know…
- I was filled with deep shame. About 10 years out there were times I still beat myself up that I started to become involved. There were times I asked myself, “How did I believe that Joseph Smith was a prophet?!?” and “Eagle, what were you thinking?”
- I consumed more Mormon material in trying to find answers. I read whatever I could get my hands on thinking I could find that one answer as to what propelled me down that path. Now its important to note that I didn’t believe it…but I was seeking answers, as to how and why I bought into it.
- There are times I wish it were true and still long for it. Mormonism has great structure and I believe people are attracted to legalism. I think that’s part of the human condition. But there are times that I honestly wish it were true.
In all I learned the following about detoxing from Mormonism. It took time, it didn’t happen overnight, in a month or in a year. In my case it took about 15 years to get something out of my system. It was hard, painful, but it also had its pluses as well. It grew me deeply. Gone was the naive 21, 22 year old college kid, it grew me I felt by a couple of decades. It taught me that I had to look out for myself, discern, and think critically. Why? If I didn’t then I was going to be hurt again. It also taught me a lot about empathy and how to empathize with those who had bad spiritual experiences. The good thing about my 5 year faith crisis is that it purged the remaining shame, and problems I had with Mormonism from my system. I’m at peace about it today and don’t feel guilty about my experience. In thinking back I was young, naive and human…and I made a mistake.
If You’re Detoxing From a Bad Faith Experience
Let me say this…I get you. No I did not walk through your church but I walked through a difficult experience. In the future I want to write a journal entry on why it is important that we as evangelicals discuss the problems, baggage, manipulation and sin that is hemorrhaging out of today’s evangelical church. Paul wrote in Romans 12:4 that “for just as each of us has one body with many members, and those members do not have all the same function” Paul goes on to say how we each have gifts and a role to play in the universal body of Christ. Let me ask this….can that body in Christ be one when there are many people wounded, hurt, and trying to pick up the pieces of their life due to a bad faith experience? Let me go on the record and state that I do not believe Mormonism to be a Christian faith system. I brushed up against it, and was exposed to parts of it, and in studying the Book of Mormon, LDS theology there are too many issues for it to be Christian. Now would I tell a Mormon that its not Christian directly…? No..that is also inappropriate after all the Bible says we are to be at peace with all men (again Romans). But if a Mormon asked me about it, I’d be compelled to be honest and articulate my concerns about Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon, etc…
But getting back to Christianity there are many people hurting today spiritually. And quite clearly many evangelicals don’t get it. The church tells people who are hurt, “stop being bitter”, “get over it” , “it was your fault to begin with…” and my all time favorite “stop being hateful and just move on, and live with it.” A bad spiritual experience I would compare to a divorce. It takes time, and healing takes place over time. Many evangelical churches which already struggle with grace are not renowned for their patience. Philip Yancey touched on this often in his books and they resonated with me deeply.
Here’s the key take away. Each person is going to be different. Healing depends upon a number of factors for each person. I’d suggest it varies on the depth of involvement, age, past spiritual history, and length. Each person will be affected differently and each person will heal differently. There is no formula, there is no standard recovery time. Asking for help I believe is a sign of strength, and that it shows character and integrity. And while I am a firm believer in mental health services and seeking mental health help, I don’t think there are a lot of resources out there that can help someone dealing with a traumatic church or spiritual situation.
Several years ago I was researching Sovereign Grace due to a situation I found myself in where I was being invited to a SGM church (at the time).When I stumbled across Survivors and I saw people posting their pain, hurt, and problems I knew exactly what was happening. I hung out at ExMormon websites and did the same thing but I did it from a Mormon perspective as I was detoxing from Mormonism. And with that I had a great amount of respect for what was taking place at SGM Survivors.
If you’ve been burned or hurt by the church let me say that I get that. The evangelical church needs to repent of its sin and take care of its members, and those who left it. Many evangelicals needlessly create their own enemies and we hurt ourselves and each other too frequently. When one person is hurt the body of Christ cannot be silent. One thing that I find interesting is that from time to time I have had people from former SGM churches just email me. I think it comes out of frustration but the text of the email might go along these lines, “I don’t know why I am doing this..but I am trying to get something out of my system. Many people don’t understand but I think you do…” and they go on an explain what it is. From time to time when I have read those emails I nod my head and say yes, I understand how painful bad theology can be. It took me 15 years to get something out of my system. So if you want to vent or rant about your church burn job feel free to vent at me. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org
In closing when it comes to bad theology I have also learned that one lives with scars. You walk forward at the speed of life and find a new way. Give yourself time to heal but remember you are going to carry scars. And that is what this video below implies. Its a former Mormon who talks about how painful her Mormon wedding was on her family and how hard it was to leave the church. Years later and she is still is moved to tears.