My fascination and descent into Mormonism. How I looked at the LDS church and started to get involved. This looks also at my cognitive dissonance in regards to Mormon theology, spiritual practices, and Mormon culture. I came close to getting baptized but never did. This is about a naïve young college student in Montana. When I was done with Mormonism I probably grew about 2 decades in critical thinking skills.
“Behold, I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things, if it be wisdom in God that ye should read them, that ye would remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things, and ponder it in your hearts.
And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.
And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.”
Moroni 10:3-5 Book of Mormon
“And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins”
2 Nephi 25 Book of Mormon
“Heavenly Father loves you—each of you. That love never changes.”
Thomas Monson – Mormon Prophet
The other day I was reading online and I saw this post by Roger Olson where he asks the question is Mormonism Christian? I found it deeply fascinating as I planned to write about Mormonism today anyhow. Before I continue I would like to feature this comment which was made by a Mormon on his blog.
I found your observation very interesting; “There is no doubt in my mind, but that something is going on in the LDS Church and Mormonism in general that constitutes a gradual but discernable shift.”
As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints I see a gradual shift in emphasis. I also see a gradual shift in general Christianity toward Mormonism theology. I have not studied this area in depth but two examples come to mind.
First I think more people today than in the past accept the idea of continued revelation. When Joseph Smith told a preacher about his vision of God the Father and Jesus Christ the minister responded by saying that there are no such things as visions or revelations these days; that all such things had ceased with the apostles, and that there would never be any more of them. I think many Christians would disagree with this minister today. I look at today’s world and I say we need the guidance of God.
Second, in my conversations with others it seems as if more people are questioning the validity of the doctrine of the trinity. When I have asked people if they believe in the trinity they will often say something like, “not the traditional definition of the trinity.” When I push for more information they are unable to describe exactly what they believe. I have no learned that there are many different views of the trinity.
I am sure there are other examples and it begs the question why is Christianity in general shifting?
Moving into the bulk of the journal entry for today. You can read my previous post about detoxifying from Mormonism here. Over the past couple of weeks I discussed and touched on the theme of cognitive dissonance. Today its time to turn the spotlight on myself and re-live and walk through my immersion into Mormonism for two years of my life. This hit a nerve in me, last night in writing this I watched some of the Mormon commercials on Youtube. They are still as powerful today as they were when I was young. However, you should know that after pushing back from Mormonism in 1996 it took me about 15 years to get this stuff out of my system. Having stated that consider that I was never even baptized. Can you imagine how hard it would be to get it out of your system if you were baptized or had family involved? In this post I am going to add more videos than normal I ask that you watch them. The first video is of a Mormon couple who left Mormonism. The husband lost his faith and his wife reacted difficultly. Please note how she reacts to the non approved Mormon books in her bedroom. To her they are almost like she found her husband’s stash of pornography. The second is of a woman in a Mormon marriage who no longer believes. I also included a couple of Mormon hymns, “Come, Come ye Saints” and “Joseph Smith’s First Prayer Song.” All these years later and I still remember being in the Ward, in my full blown suit and singing Joseph Smith’s First Prayer Song. This is a sensitive and emotional post for me…as this brought back a lot of memories.
The period of my life when I explored Mormonism didn’t begin in my sophomore year in College, I believe it started much earlier in life when I was a kid. When I was young I recall how I often used to listen to the radio late at night, especially when I was in bed trying to fall asleep. With my head upon a pillow often I heard these cute, faith inspiring advertisements from the Mormon Church which often would close with, “…a message from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” I remembered how I often smiled and looked forward to hearing these LDS messages. This actually started to grow a fascination with the Mormon faith that stayed with me subtly over the years.
In 1993 I graduated from my Catholic High School, in Fresno, California and started to attend college in Helena, Montana. At the time I was very disinterested in Catholicism for a multiple number of reasons. I didn’t see how the Catholic faith was applicable to my life. It seemed like it often produced guilt – needless guilt that I thought unnecessary. I remember going to confession and confessing things that were not true because I felt like I had to. Though I said the “Hail Mary” I didn’t know why I was saying it, and thought the way Mary was elevated in the Catholic Church was a bit much. When I was younger I also was exposed to some slight “Liberation Theology” which was a mix of faith and politics, in an effort to help the poor in Central and South America. During this time I heard so much about Archbishop Oscar Romero who was killed while celebrating mass in Managua, Nicaragua, that I felt like I was responsible for his death because I happened to support the Republicans at the time. Liberation Theology became highly political with a negative focus on Ronald Reagan and conservative policies in the 80’s. All of this affected me in the early 90’s and when I was free to explore faith in Montana as a college student in time I slowly started to explore and find myself.
By my Sophomore year in college I wasn’t practicing anything and wasn’t attending Mass at all. I was really indifferent and trying to figure things out for myself. That spring of 1995 I traveled from Helena, Montana to Fresno, California for Spring Break. I used the break as an opportunity to look for summer employment as I knew I needed a job. During my job search I was frustrated that I wasn’t practicing anything theologically, and was reflecting on this as I was out pounding the pavement looking for a summer job. I was walking through an office complex in Fresno and recall how I turned the corner and asked myself, “Well maybe God will give me a sign as to what I should be?” As I rounded the corner I found myself standing in front of the Central California Missionary Office for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I was stunned and decided to look into it. I walked inside and saw the Mormon Missionary bikes inside the office. The missionaries were not there but the wife of the Mission President (I believe…) spoke with me. She wanted me to meet with the LDS Missionaries who stepped out. I was nervous, and said that I didn’t have time. She did give me a Book of Mormon, and a VHS Tape (Videocassette for those of you born in the 2000’s!) about how families can be eternal. I thanked her and left, and I stayed up late one night after my parents went to bed and watched the video. I was deeply moved by the family friendly, and stirring faith scenes I was watching. This brought back many memories of being a kid and listening to Mormon radio advertisements with fondness. I then decided that I should look more into the Mormon faith.
After returning to Montana for college for the rest of the semester I didn’t explore faith. I then returned and got a job in a retail store in Fresno for the summertime. Late in the summertime I made contact with the Mormon Church and agreed to meet with them. I kept all this as a secret from my family. So I asked the Mormon missionaries if they could meet with me at my place of work, and they agreed. So one day I was having lunch when I was in the back of the retail store. The cashier up front called me and told me that there were 2 Mormon missionaries who were looking for me and asked, “Should I send them back?” I said that’s fine and went from the backroom to the counter in the rear of the store. Shortly I saw them walking down the aisle. Clean pressed suit, clean white shirt, shiny shoes, well groomed, and I was impressed by their demeanor. Each Elder introduced themselves to me and we spoke for a couple of minutes. They wanted to give me a Gospel Presentation in a more private setting, and I agreed and told them that I wanted to hear what they had to say. Since going to my home was out of the question I agreed to meet them after work at a LDS Ward in the nearby Fresno neighborhood of Sunnyside.
I remember meeting with the Elders in the LDS Ward. I actually grew fond, and found them to be deeply nice, and warm. They explained to me that there were a series of Gospel lessons to present to me and that they led to baptism in the end. I listened intently and liked what I was hearing. The message being presented was quite pleasant, amazing, and there was little I could disagree. After the presentation I asked for permission to ask them a number of questions. And with that I fired away with gentle questions about polygamy, Joseph Smith, multi levels of heaven, Mormon missionary work, and what does LDS conversion from Catholicism look like? The Mormon Missionaries I spoke to were warm and answered the questions; one however was sick. His 2 year mission was coming to a close and he went to a Laotian Feast and ate something that didn’t go well with his stomach. This Missionary was looking forward to returning to Farmington, New Mexico. The other missionary that took the lead was from Colorado Springs, Colorado. He gave me his business card which, I still have today. Since summer was coming to a close college in Montana was resuming shortly and I explained that I was returning to Montana. They asked for permission to transfer my information to the LDS Church in Montana, and I said that I will contact the LDS Church and resume the discussions.
First Ward Service
College life resumed my Junior year and I made contact again with the Mormon missionaries. They asked me if I wanted to attend a Ward service in Helena. After much thought I agreed to attend. This would be my first service outside the Roman Catholic Church. To this day I remember the night before that Sunday morning. I laid in bed staring at the ceiling and I felt guilty about pursuing the LDS faith for some reason. However, I didn’t know why I felt guilty. As I laid in bed I was so nervous that I was sweating out of anxiety. I didn’t get much sleep that night and slowly morning came. My dorm was quiet that Sunday morning and at 8:30 no one was up. There was some hard partying the night before, and with that I got dressed put on my suit and waited for the Mormon Missionaries to pick me up. I was nervous as I got into the car. When we got to church we walked into the Ward and there were Mormons dressed up wherever I looked. The one thing that immediately caught my eye was a 4 or 5 year old wearing a full blown suit who was carrying a Book of Mormon. I thought it was both cute, and I respected it as it showed me how serious the Mormons were about their faith. The three hour service was broken down into “Sacrament” , ”Men’s Priesthood” and “Sunday School”. I sat in the back and listened to the presentations. When the main service started I listened to the LDS Bishop speak. In a rather stirring talk he spoke about how the Mormon Church was a beacon, a lighthouse in the night for the lost, and how the LDS needed to take the Gospel out to more people. He also spoke about the role of men in the process, even quoting late Hollywood Director Cecil B. DeMille in saying, “Men can make laws, but laws can’t make men.” The service was over and the Mormons took me back to college. We started to meet regularly and they took me through all the Gospel lessons.
As I progressed the Mormons started to raise the idea of me being baptized and they were pressuring me to select a baptism date. During this time I started to read and research on Mormonism as I was having questions. I fully expected my questions to fall away and that the truth of Mormonism to stand. During this time I was infatuated and loved the Mormon faith. Sometimes I imagined myself as being a true believing, and faithful Mormon. I fell in love with the Mormon Temple after the LDS Missionaries spoke to me about the Temple…and after I eventually got baptized and fulfilled my calling it was something to look forward. There is a lot of pride in Mormonism. What comes to your mind when you think Mormon? In my case I thought of becoming an elite member of an established and known group of Christianity (remember this is my mindset at the time…) who would be very conservative and established. There were times I imagined myself telling others I was a Mormon with pride. Meanwhile my family back in California learned about my growing involvement in Mormonism. It didn’t go over well. I became very hostile to Catholicism and my family wanted me to speak to Catholic Church authorities. My Mormon behavior and disagreements had puzzled my parents and forced them to get involved in a Catholic Bible study. During this time I had not gone public about the direction I was going, but word slowly started to trickle out. In a strong Irish Catholic environment when Brigham Young University played Notre Dame in football I publically supported BYU. Some of the people on my dorm floor were shocked, even telling others, “Did you hear that Eagle is supporting BYU?” In my dorm room I hid my Book of Mormon and Doctrine & Covenants just like it was adult pornography.
Easter in 1996 also fell on the Church’s General Conference. The Mormon Church holds General Conference twice a year – in the fall and the spring. While I mostly kept my interest in the LDS to myself I knew that I had to break the news eventually to other Mormons on campus – especially if I was going to be seeing them at church. If I remember correctly all the Wards in Helena got together for General Conference and thus I knew in a small town I would likely be recognized. The Mormon Missionaries had kept the conversations I was having with them confidential. So I contacted one of the Mormons on Campus and asked if I can speak with her. She said that was fine and I walked down to the female dorm. I saw the person in question and we hung out in the lounge. She asked what was up and I broke the ice and explained that she was going to be seeing me at the Mormon Church service tomorrow. When she realized what I had said, she screamed with joy, jumped up and hugged me. I explained to her that I was looking deeply into the Mormon faith and that I was giving deep thought to converting into Mormonism. This Mormon was so happy and overjoyed at what I said. She explained to me that the Mormon Missionaries told her and other Mormons at college that they were working with a college student from their educational institution. She and the other Mormons wanted to know who it was and they kept wondering? Coming out and telling her directly answered their questions. Since the word was out I got to know a couple of other Mormons in college. Here it is nearly 20 years later and I can still feel her hug as it was that powerful.
The next day as I sat in the LDS Ward that Sunday morning I listened to Mormon Prophet G Gordon Hinckley address the Mormon faithful. There was something I began to notice during the talk by the Mormon Prophet that was bothering me…here it was Easter Sunday – the holiest day of Christianity – and with the exception of Hinckley mentioning Easter a couple of times there was no mention or feeling of importance of Easter. That baffled me, and I asked the Mormon Missionaries about it and they said that they held Easter in high esteem in every Sunday throughout the year.
Overall I spent most of my time hanging out with the Mormon Missionaries and discussing LDS theology. One time one of them was making a video to send home to his family and he asked if I wanted to appear in it, and I respectfully declined. During this time the internet came online in my college in 1996. And while I read material in the library I also was reading material online. It was during this time that I heard and saw blogs like, “exmormon.org” or the Utah Lighthouse Ministry by Gerald and Sandra Tanner. I was also started reading that Mormon males believed that they were going to become a God when they died. That sounded crazy to me as I never heard that discussed by the missionaries. I raised it to the Mormons and they told me that I needed to stop reading “anti-Mormon” material and wanted me to stick to what they gave me. During this time I agreed and when I encountered difficult stuff just rationalized or explained it away. When I read stories online of Mormon spiritual abuse, manipulation, etc… I thought, “that won’t happen to me my experience will be different” and that is how cognitive dissonance played out with me during this time of my life. I honestly believed it would never happen to me, that I wouldn’t encounter spiritual abuse, dishonesty or questionable activity. In my mind if someone ran afoul of the LDS Church it was because of immorality or they were not following the rules. I knew what I was getting myself into…I thought.
Sometimes I grabbed a ride to church from the LDS missionaries, and other times I was given a ride by a nice Mormon couple. When I rode with the Mormon missionaries they often picked up another person. One of the people who got a ride was a single mother on welfare, I remember sitting next to her on the way to church. If I got a ride from the Mormon couple they talked with me and held a pleasant conversation. In talking to them they explained to me how they knew the Mormon Church was true and how they believed that there are still prophets in these days, and that Joseph Smith was one of them. They had both converted to Mormonism from the Baptist faith and the Presbyterian faith respectively. They explained the problems they had with evangelical Protestant teaching. I was really puzzled because I thought the Baptists knew their faith and Bible down pat – and found it highly unlikely that a Baptist would convert. This would haunt me as time moved on.
Cognitive Dissonance and Spiritual Pain
Overall I would guess that I went to about 6 or 7 LDS services over a year and a half. Most of my time with the Mormons included hanging out with the Mormon missionaries. In the services there were two things that stood out. The first is that the Mormons wanted to build a temple in Billings, Montana and it had been controversial. So they prayed for the Billings Temple to be constructed. The other part is I was realizing slowly that some of the Mormon converts I was meeting used to be Baptist. In one “Fast and Testimony” meeting on the first Sunday of the month a former Baptist convert stood in front of the Ward and wept as he spoke. He discussed why he believed Joseph Smith was a Prophet and about his conversion to Mormonism. He was crying because of the difficulty it brought to his family especially his parents. He also acknowledged his Baptist’s mother’s presence and as I sat there listening to this I heard the mother sitting behind me as she cried in her seat. Mostly I got to know the LDS missionaries and mostly interacted with them outside of class and church. The Mormon missionaries called me and left messages from time to time as they invited me to participate in Ward activities such as baking cookies or other social events. But there were a few things that deeply stunned me that left me perplexed that really bothered me and my budding admiration for Mormonism.
One Sunday in the Men’s Priesthood class they spoke about proper grooming for men. They talked about wearing conservative attire, having regular and clean haircuts, no ear rings, no tattoos, and about looking respectful and conservative. They discussed this because it was important that Mormons look their best because the squeaky clean image needed to be convoyed to a watching world. I sat there in the class and nodded my head in agreement as I agreed with what I was hearing. The following Sunday a visitor showed up at the Mormon Ward in Helena. His demeanor struck me as odd but people were excited to see him. He showed up at church wearing jeans, had long hair and ear rings. I was absolutely baffled because the previous Sunday we had a lecture and talk about proper grooming standards. So I asked the Mormon missionary, “What’s going on? We had this talk about proper grooming and then someone shows up going against that? I’m confused Elder…” The Elder spoke with me and said, “I know this must be confusing especially in light of what was taught, however he is special because he is a direct descendant of Brigham Young.” I was taken back…the rules that were just taught apparently didn’t apply to everyone. The rules were not universal. If you were related to Brigham Young or Joseph Smith then you were in another class and were special. This baffled me. The second thing that stunned me happened with that single mother who was on welfare who just converted and baptized into Mormonism. During the 3 hour service she was pulled aside by the LDS Bishop and dressed down about her tithing. When I saw her I could tell she was crying, and she told me the story. I was a 19/20 year old college kid infatuated with Mormonism. I loved it and thought deeply about converting to it. When I saw the Mormons at the Ward…privately I wanted that to be me. Now I was standing hearing this single mother tell me that she was being pressured about tithing and she was telling me that she didn’t have money and struggled to buy groceries. The money she had she spent in buying a nice dress for church. As she told me this she was crying. I was stunned…this is not the Mormonism I saw in the TV commercials, or in other parts of Mormon life. I wanted to disbelieve this was true. This happened in a hallway at the Ward if I remember correctly.
There were also a couple of other things I noticed that bothered me as well. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but it was disturbing. Though the Mormons would probably never admit it, it was almost as if they had this special unique affection for Joseph Smith and Brigham Young. And it felt like they were almost worshipping both LDS prophets. The warmth and love that was professed for both weighed on me. There was one other thing which I kept to myself. I had noticed as I got further involved with Mormonism that my feelings were changing. Sometimes I felt confused, or dizzy. When I sat in the church seat during LDS services I had this inner turmoil, and it felt uncomfortable – like something wasn’t right. Or that I shouldn’t be there. These feelings I couldn’t shake and remained with me during my LDS period of searching.
During my senior year I had read and heard a book by Fawn Brodie called “No Man Knows My History”. It was the definitive biography of the Mormon Prophet Joseph Smith. I started to read it, and was stunned by what I read. Then in a turn of events for some strange reason I was up almost all night reading the book. I couldn’t put it down. I was blown away by the character issues the book raised about Joseph Smith. I was conflicted…part of me wanted to trash the book and destroy it. Part of me thought it must be telling me the truth. When I started to realize the Mormon foundation had cracks I dismissed it and tried to shore it up as best I could. Some of the issues that were popping up included the following:
- The history of polygamy
- Archaeological evidence for the Book of Mormon
- I was stunned to read about blood atonement being practiced in territorial Utah
- Mountain Meadows Massacre
- Problems in Mormon families including depression and other mental health issues.
- The Mormon Church allowing blacks into the priesthood.
I struggled with all these things but I dismissed them and looked at it all as being “anti-Mormon material” and to keep that in mind.
The crack in a dam that became a flood happened in a Sunday school class. We were reviewing and studying a Gospel Doctrine. And the Sunday school teacher was commenting about how we could become like “Heavenly Father”. The class was small and had about 4-6 people in it. The Mormon missionaries sat next to me. During my time in exploring Mormonism I had heard about godhood but when I raised it to the Mormons they had told me that I was reading “anti-Mormon” material. When I pressed about it they denied it to me, and I came to the conclusion that it was not true. In my thinking I was reading false material from blogs, and evangelical Christian websites that were slanderous and out right false. Now I was listening to this presentation by this LDS Sunday School teacher who told me us about “how we are going to become like Heavenly Father.” I was puzzled and raised my hand and stopped the instruction. I asked a question, that basically said, “Do you believe that you’re going to become a god in heaven?” I was expecting a no answer, because that is what I was taught to believe. After all it was the evangelicals and those who hated the Mormon faith who were lying about it. The Sunday school teacher looked at me, and then looked at the Mormon missionaries sitting next to me. Suddenly one of the Mormons leaned over and told me that they needed to teach me more about the Mormon faith. Then I was stunned I realized that I was lied to, and that the Mormons were being dishonest. The faith started to fall apart for me and I was struggling more and more with Mormonism.
The final straw to where the scales fell off my eyes took place at a Catholic Bible study in Fresno. I was visiting my family and tagged along. Something dramatic had happened, and I suddenly realized that I knew that Mormonism was not Christian. I began to realize how much I was hurting myself and others. I also was pretty deep into the LDS faith and wondered how do I sever myself from Mormonism? When I returned to Montana I cut off all contacts with the Mormons. In a small town like Helena that was a challenge. I remember from time to time going into a grocery store and seeing a Mormon from the Ward shopping. Distressed, and fearful of getting sucked into a conversation of, “Eagle where have you been?” I ducked into another aisle and hid. I didn’t pursue friendships with the Mormons in college. One of the guys that I knew from college started his Mormon mission in Mexico. I wrote him a sarcastic note informing him that I would not be pursuing Mormonism any further and that I was going back to Catholicism. In one of the saddest, most desperate notes that I ever received I got a letter from this Mormon missionary that begged and pleaded for me not to reject the faith. He apologized for how he treated me, told me he knew the Church of Jesus-Christ of Latter-day Saints is true. I threw the letter away and never responded. Though I walked away from Mormonism in Helena in 1996 from time to time I would still be contacted by the LDS Church. I think the final contact came in 1999 from a Mormon I casually knew who wanted to talk about the faith. I just ignored it, and going forward no one contacted me. I had lost many contacts in moving from Montana to California. While I was moving on with my life there was something that bothered me and weighed on me for years. I often thought of the Mormon couple who gave me a ride to church and how they converted from Presbyterian and Baptist faith. Why did they convert? Why couldn’t they practice discernment? This question weighed on me for years and it was a question I would finally get an answer to in my faith crisis nearly 15 years later. Oh and that application to grad school at Brigham Young? I still have it I never submitted it. I wondered sometimes how my life would be different had I taken that course of action.