This is the last post in my preparation to meet with Dr. Jana Riess in an oral interview as she asks questions of me that I assume she is asking of a whole bunch of other people who agreed to be interviewed as former members of the LDS Church. I doubt we will get to cover one tenth of the material I have shared in this and the last three posts. This post will cover my answers to three questions:
4. Why did you decide to leave Mormonism?
5. How has that decision to leave affected your core relationships?
6. What do you believe and practice now, if anything?
The first three questions were answered in the previous three posts:
If I had started to prepare sooner, I would have liked to separate the last three questions into three posts, but the demands of work each day compress time. I am grateful for the opportunity to prepare. Just as when I used to prepare talks as a High Councilor, I believe I get more out of the preparation than the actual words I share. All I can do is ask the Lord to bless me as I answer the questions I’m asked.
Why did you decide to leave Mormonism?
I did not leave Mormonism. I resigned my membership in the LDS Church. Given the current emphasis by the LDS President on removing the word “Mormon” from the vernacular, I would say the LDS Church has left Mormonism. You’ll note I refer to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints often as the LDS Church. It’s silly to think everyone is going to use the long name when the short name will work.
However, to be clear, I felt strongly impressed with a desire to be rebaptized after I attended the last of ten lectures presented by Denver Snuffer. I was not joining any church. I was simply making a public statement that I accepted the message I had heard delivered. I know many other people turned away. My wife walked out of the final lecture. But to me, it was a message from God to me, pure and simple.
Obviously, what Denver shared was not well received by most members of the LDS Church. In fact, I doubt many members heard it, or wanted to hear it, mainly because Denver had been excommunicated. LDS folks have a strong tendency to conform to the standard of orthodoxy. There is no room in the LDS Church for those who do not believe in the infallibility of the current church leadership.
Mormonism is not the same as the LDS Church. There are many people who accept Joseph Smith as a prophet or messenger sent by the Lord and who also accept the Book of Mormon as the word of God, a covenant for our day. They are not members of the LDS Church. They may have been at one time, or they may have grown up as members of the Community of Christ who feel abandoned.
Hearing the Voice of the Lord
When I was preparing to serve as a missionary for the LDS Church at age 19, I determined in my heart that I wanted to come into the presence of the Lord. I was studying the Doctrine and Covenants. I read the D&C Commentary by Hyrum Smith and Janne Sjödahl from cover to cover, digesting every historical note and commentary with pondering and prayer. I decided to fast and pray about it.
I had never fasted for three days before. On the third day I literally entered into my closet and prayed for hours, talking to the Lord about what I had read and asking for a witness of the prophet Joseph Smith. After all, I was about to go out and spend two years teaching and testifying of the message he had shared. I did not want to go out unarmed without a witness of my own of the prophet Joseph.
I was not disappointed, yet I was surprised at the answer I received. The Lord knew I was about at my limit of endurance. He quickly came to me and said I didn’t need to continue my fast. He specifically said that “Most of what I had read was factual.” Again, I was surprised and asked what was not correct. To my astonishment, another voice came to me, that of someone other than the Lord.
“You will never be able to know everything I passed through until you come to the other side. Some things cannot be experienced or understood except on this side of the veil.” I knew in my heart I had heard Joseph. I felt an incredible sense of peace and relief. Relief that I could end my fast and peace that the Lord trusted me enough to allow me to gain a first-hand witness of the Prophet Joseph Smith.
A Witness of the Prophet Joseph
I had received previous answers to prayer in a very direct fashion like this, but I soon came to learn this was not “normal” and that most folks never heard voices like I did. For years I kept this in my heart, but it sustained me any time I felt discouraged or rejected as I walked all over the hills and jungles of Central America trying to find people who would listen to the message of a prophet.
When I sing, “We thank thee O God for a Prophet,” I do not think of the current prophet. Never have. The prophet to me has always been Joseph Smith. He was bold and certain in his declaration of the message he was given. He stood up for what was right. He denounced wickedness. He called people to repentance. He never wavered in his witness. He gave up his life in defense of the truth of God.
How could he do otherwise? He had been in the presence of God. God trusted him. He often felt he disappointed God because of his weaknesses and inability to get the people to see and understand things God had revealed to him. There was so much more he could have done if the people had given greater heed to his words. He did not complete his mission. The restoration was in fact, cut short.
Joseph Has Not Been Reincarnated
There are some who believe Joseph will come and set things in order before the Savior returns. I do not believe that. There are some who believe he has returned in the form of another mortal, perhaps in another country. I do not believe that. Joseph performed his labors to the best of his ability. His work was not perfect, in that it was not completed. He gave his life as a sacrifice for the people he loved.
So, again, I have not left Mormonism. I love the Book of Mormon. I read and study it every day with my wife. It is the highlight of my day, a time of unity in spite of the differences of belief about the Church and lingering pain and resentment and perhaps embarrassment that I caused her because I resigned my membership. I continue to be grateful Carol reads the scriptures and prays with me each night.
How has that decision to leave affected your core relationships?
My core relationship with the Lord has been unchanged or improved. I feel I have done what the Lord has asked of me, or I wouldn’t have done it. I knew it would be potentially catastrophic on my relationship with my wife. I praise Carol for her continued faithfulness both to the LDS Church and to me. She is a saint in that she is dealing with a very difficult situation in how the LDS Church has labeled me.
I am an apostate in that I now reject many of the claims of orthodoxy and of authority that are asserted by the LDS Church. Who is to say what is orthodox any more anyway? There is such diversity in what people believe. I may feel strongly about some doctrine or principle that even those in the very highest leadership of the LDS Church do not accept, even though Joseph once taught the idea as truth.
For example, in one of the two instances I referred to earlier under subjective religious experience I described being in the presence of evil spirits for the first time in which I recognized them and saw them in my mind’s eye. There are those who would say I am a nutcase because I even entertain the idea of the reality of evil spirits. Yet, to me, this is a fundamental and foundational belief of my faith.
Relationship With LDS Church Leadership
If you consider my relationship with the LDS Church, or more specifically with the highest leadership of the LDS Church as a core relationship then it has suffered terribly. I don’t know and have not met any of the current leadership of the LDS Church, but I can tell you we would have a difficult time discussing the doctrines of the restoration because I simply don’t accept their authority to define doctrine.
I would not and do not challenge them. They have been sustained by the people as being prophets, seers and revelators. Scripture has been applied to their words in that the people believe that whatever they say is the word of God. I do not. I have no problem raising my hand to sustain them, because I believe they have the right to lead the institution of the LDS Church, but not to declare God’s doctrine.
Of course, my sustaining vote is not valid anyway since I am not a member of the LDS Church. It is symbolic, probably always was. So obviously, a core relationship has been severely damaged and in fact, severed by me, in that I withdrew myself from membership in the LDS Church. I am grateful my request was honored and that there has been no public or private action taken against me by the Church.
Core Relationship with Carol
But I think the core relationship you are most interested in is my relationship with my wife. This is a difficult area because what I share will be so one-sided. I know Carol at one time started work on a book to tell her side of the story, her belief that I was and continue to be deceived by a false prophet. I encouraged her to complete that book. I think it would be a best seller and somewhat sensational.
I will never stop praising Carol for her patience and long-suffering with me. She must be terribly disappointed. Think about it. To her, I walked away from our marriage covenants when I resigned, because those were administered in the Los Angeles Temple. She believes we will be separated in the eternities. She is hoping that someday I will “repent” and come back to be baptized into the LDS Church.
However, as I’ve said many times in many places on my blog, that’s not going to happen, mainly because it requires approval of the First Presidency. The only way they are going to allow that is if I renounce everything I have written about my journey over the last decade or so and delete my blog. That was made clear to me as a condition of even being considered for baptism by my bishop when I left.
Follow the Brethren
So, there are many jabs I endure as Carol and I read the scriptures, when a point of doctrine will come up that refers to the church leadership or “Follow the Brethren.” That’s a big B Brethren, meaning the fifteen who will speak to us this weekend at General Conference. I will watch conference with her as I have done for all our married life, but it has not been the same since I resigned in 2014.
Obviously, we no longer attend the temple together. Of course, right now in California the temples are still closed. I miss going to the temple with Carol. I think she has gone maybe ten times or less in the six years since I resigned. When it was open, I encouraged her to go and she would whenever someone else would reach out to her and offer a ride, but never on her own. That is sad to think about.
We both love the temple. Attendance was a sign of our worship and devotion as well as an expression of our desire to learn more about the Lord, believing that we can receive personal revelation there in a holier setting. The temples are so beautiful, but I wish the Church would have used that money to help the poor instead of building such lavish edifices. They truly are ornate as well as uplifting.
Other Core Relationships
You may wonder how things are between me and the stake leadership where I once served as a Stake Clerk. It is cordial. I talk to the members of the Stake Presidency when I see them at church. They talk to me, ask how things are going. Of course, we haven’t seen each other in over six months because of the lockdown, but I have never felt anything but love and kindness from them.
I feel the same way about my former bishop who was our senior High Councilor for a while. We did not see eye to eye on several issues as we discussed things prior to my being placed on informal probation for apostasy. In case you don’t know, that means you are asked to not partake of the Sacrament, to not offer prayers in church or speak up in Sunday School or Priesthood classes.
However, I still have great respect for the man just as I do for our current Bishop. They have a difficult job of dealing with enough problems without having to deal with someone like me. I think I asked a previous bishop after our ward boundaries were changed if I could bear a testimony. He would not even consider the idea. I get it. There is always the concern that I might go off and say something crazy that would make everyone uncomfortable. I would never do that, but, oh well.
Finally, with other members of my family, I don’t think they care or have even thought about it since I told them. Only two of my siblings are active LDS, or as much as anyone can be considered active today with the restricted church activity allowed in their respective states. They never followed my blog anyway, so they didn’t know anything about what I was studying or writing about online.
What do you believe and practice now, if anything?
I believe we are living in the last days, not just the latter days, but the last days. I believe we are on the cusp of some fundamental world changes, both politically and socially. I foresee the day when our government ceases to function, and we see tribes roaming here in America. The Lord has said he would bring about an end of all nations. Is that before he returns or after? If before, how soon before?
I hope that’s not soon. I hope that’s not the reason the scripture says every man who will not pick up a weapon must flee to Zion (D&C 45:68). I do not believe in violence and will not pick up a weapon. I do not own a gun. The Church teachings today are very vague about fleeing to Zion. There is the general consensus among members that Zion as a place of refuge is at best, go to your local Stake Center.
I don’t believe that’s going to cut it. Nor do I believe we will walk to Independence Missouri. However, the scriptures are clear that we are to gather in the tops of the mountains for protection. I am not a “prepper” or a hoarder. I also very much enjoy where I am living right now and have been for the last twenty years. I like my job. I like my work. I want things to go on the same as they have always been.
Sadly, that’s not going to happen. The Lord has been clear that the events of the last days will all transpire in one generation. We are clearly seeing the effects of the withdrawal of the spirit of the Lord from the earth. The love of men one for another is waxing cold. Men’s hearts are failing them. The people of this land will eventually turn to genocide and fratricide, even though this is a land of promise.
The Promise of a Covenant
The question is, who has that promise? Do you? Do I? Are we a covenant people? Which covenant can we claim for protection? I have entered into a new covenant that was offered to the people in September of 2017. In invite you to read the prayer for covenant and the answer to prayer. There are wonderful promises contained in there. These are the promises I live by. This is what I believe in.
It seems like every other night in our scripture study Carol or I find reference to the return of the Lord in great power with the powers of heaven. No matter how many times the Lord has tried to make this clear, it constantly amazes me how few people get that he is referring to the return of Zion, the City of Enoch. “They that come shall burn them” is real doctrine, not some hypothetical situation.
I believe God lives and loves me. I believe in Christ as my Savior and Redeemer. I believe in repentance and am grateful God allows us to change. I believe in the power of the Atonement that gives me hope and strength. I shared a long list of things I believe in. For the most part, I believe in what most Mormons say they believe in. I believe the Book of Mormon is the word of God for us today.
I believe the prophet Joseph Smith was God’s messenger and the head of a dispensation. But now I’m going to add something I believe that is not an orthodox Mormon belief. I believe God has sent another messenger in our day, who is also the head of a dispensation. He has delivered a message from God at great personal sacrifice. He has been the means of obtaining a covenant.
Personal Religious Practices
I strive to practice my religion. I try to be kind, patient and understanding with all who the Lord brings into my path. My personal religious practices include family scripture study, family prayer, partaking of the sacrament regularly and in sharing the gospel. I try to do that by the way I treat people each day. Hopefully, they feel the love and see the light I carry within me and want to know more.
I find fellowship with my family and the Saints in our ward. As long as Carol feels the way she does about the LDS Church, I will continue to honor her desires to associate with the church. She still pays tithing to the LDS Church. I do not. I still wear my temple garments. That may surprise you. I have worn them for 44 years. Nobody told me I could no longer wear them when I resigned.
I believe the prophet Joseph tried to give us something in the endowment that would invite and encourage us to rise up and enter into the presence of the Lord. I believe the endowment was not understood by Brigham. It was not recorded for many years. Brigham added things that did not come from Joseph. He did not understand many things Joseph tried to teach. He also betrayed Joseph.
The Holy Ghost is the Mind of Christ
I believe Joseph had the sealing power. I believe Joseph received priesthood from Angels. I believe I have priesthood. I received that priesthood from my father. I do not believe I lost any priesthood when I resigned from the church. I did not lose the gift of the Holy Ghost when I resigned. Unlike President Oaks, I feel the burning of the bosom, a tangible witness to me of God’s love and approbation.
He warns me from danger. He entices and encourages me to repent. He brings things to my remembrance. He comforts me. He gives me courage. He helps me to discern truth from error. He invites me to rise up to do better, be better and prepare myself to come into the presence of the Lord. He protects me. He warns me. He teaches me. He bears witness of the Father and of the Son to me.
My spirit becomes holy when I strive to be in tune with the mind of Christ. I am a better man when I try to know and understand the mind of Christ. The Holy Ghost is the mind of Christ. He fills me with light and truth. I believe I can rise up above the filth of this world through the mind of Christ, the Holy Ghost. Everything I do can bring me to Christ as I seek to know and understand His will, His thoughts.