Saturday, September 17, 2011


When you grow up steeped in everything Mormon you assume that it's the only valid world view.  That everything revolves around Mormonism and Salt Lake City.  You think the trajectory of world history is simple and clear-cut, and moving inexorably to a well-known end.  You're most likely taught that you were saved for "the last days" to be part of that end.  You see the world through Mormon-colored glasses.

Then after breaking out of the shell, things are really disorienting for a while.  They have been for me.  But I'm gradually starting to get my bearings again.  And one thing I'm continuously struck by is the increasingly comical view which Mormons have of their own church's importance in the world. 

Even when I was a good faithful Mormon boy, I remember reading about early leaders' proclamations to the world, addressed to basically everybody worldwide, kings, emperors, presidents, leaders and populace alike, everywhere.  And printed in some local newspaper that probably never saw circulation beyond a few counties on the western frontier edge of the United States.  It seemed laughably presumptuous.  Like a little kindergarten boy indignantly marching outside to lecture a raincloud for spoiling his playtime and demanding that the cloud go away.  And just as effective.

But also getting just about as much notice.  And even today, with its massive wealth and media muscle, the Mormon church is still only about 4 million actual participating people worldwide.  Four million out of six billion?  With growth stalled to near zero in all developed countries? 

And yet those inside it persist in their tendency to think their organization is the fulcrum on which the world pivots.   There's such seriousness, even self-importance, within the cocoon.  Recall my previous example about apostle Russell Ballard being incredulous on learning that most Americans still had a dim view of Mormons even after decades of missionary work and untold millions spent on PR.

And this is where it gets funny.  Outside, hardly anybody even notices the cocoon's existence.  Those who do notice now have the Internet, which has stripped the church of its ability to control its own history and message, and I'm convinced that's one reason why baptismal rates have been dropping since . . . well, isn't that interesting.  Since right around the time the Internet became widely available.  Hmmm.  Coincidence?

The Book of Mormon Musical and the campaigns of Mr. Huntsman and Mr. Romney have focused some temporary media attention on the church.  But much of it isn't the kind the church wants.  And when the musical finishes its run, and next year's presidential campaign is over with, the media and the world will turn their attention to something else.  And I have no doubt the view from inside the cocoon, with its self-importance and its latent persecution complex, will remain unchanged.  As will the fact that most of the world goes on quite happily without any notice of that quirky little group out there in the Utah desert whose growth is clearly stalling out and whose social relevance is fading.

Sunday, September 11, 2011


This evening I sang the Faure Requiem as part of the special 9/11 Evensong service at San Diego's Episcopal cathedral.  I couldn't help but be struck by the contrast between how I felt as I stood in front of the altar and sang that beautiful music, and how I'd felt in countless Mormon sacrament meetings.

Much in Mormon tradition and leaders' preaching slams traditional Christianity as "apostate" and, as exemplified by Bruce McConkie, makes a huge and angry fuss over things like stained glass and incense and vestments and ceremony and all that.  I guess it's supposed to be self-evident that all those things are evidence of Satanic corruption and confirmation of Whore of Babylon status or something.

Well show me chapter and verse in the Mormon scriptural canon that requires the type of Sunday services the Mormons use.  Other than the sacrament prayer.  Oh yeah, that's what I thought.  It's nowhere in Mormon scriptures either.  Where'd it come from, then?  Most Mormon don't realize that it was Brigham Young who set the pattern for Mormon worship services still used today, and that those services represent Young's New England Congregationalist upbringing and preferences.  Very basic, simple stuff.  No liturgy, no high church trappings.  That's what Brigham Young liked, so that's what the Mormons use.

But over the last 20 years or so, I've noticed something.  And it's not just me, either, I'm seeing people all over the Bloggernacle remark about it.  Mormon services have become unendurably boring.  Bereft of spirit and inspiration.  The spiritual sclerosis induced by Correlation made going to church a chore for me years before I actually left.  And the kids would do nothing but read or sleep through sacrament meeting and eventually began begging me not to make them even do that.  Finally I realized that my time was far better spent giving them attention than sitting with them and sharing boredom and drowsiness on a Mormon chapel's back bench every Sunday.  So we stopped attending and haven't been back.  And family life's far better.

So today, as I stood in front of the altar at St. Paul's Episcopal Cathedral and sang that ethereally beautiful music in memory of the victims of 9/11--who I'm sure barely warranted a mention in Mormon sacrament meetings today--I couldn't help but be struck by the contrast.  The church I was raised in came to feel like a sterile, pointless collection of automatons who assembled each week in a plain boxy room to go through the same rote, boring business meeting punctuated by songs sung abysmally with minimum enthusiasm.  Nobody new ever turned up.  There were two convert baptisms in the 4+ years I attended that ward.  It was like everybody was on autopilot.  A little cocoon of robots, unconnected to the outside world, all dutifully repeating the same things week after week.  Including the guilt for not doing better and not achieving more.  The only time I saw anybody really worked up there was during the Prop 8 campaign when they all suddenly sprang to full, vitriolic, angry, rumor-mongering, homophobic life.  The longer I was there, the more disconnected I felt.

But when I stood there today in front of the altar at St. Paul's, singing that beautiful music, I felt connected in so many ways that I never did in any Mormon setting.  Connected to everyone around me who obviously understood and knew and appreciated this music just as I did.  Connected to the greater liturgical tradition of the church in which I sang and to the literally centuries' worth of people who'd found meaning and purpose in that form of worship.  Connected to those lost on 9/11 in whose memory we sang the Requiem as a memorial and prayer for God's mercy on them.  Connected to every American who paused today to remember the victims and how the world changed ten years ago.  I was part of something vast, that reached out across the country, that reached back centuries in time.  It was awe-inspiring and gratifying in ways I can't imagine ever being possible in today's Mormon sacrament meetings.

After the services ended and the bishop pronounced the benediction, those of us in the choir--all dressed in black--filed slowly down the aisle of the cathedral as the waning day's sunlight streamed through the great rose window's stained glass and right into our eyes.  And once again, I felt connected.  Very much part of something larger, something that resonated in my heart and stirred me as deeply as anything has.  For me, at least, there really is something to the symbolism of a celebrants' procession in and out of the cathedral.  It tells everyone "Hey!  Pay attention!  Something special is about to happen!" or "Hey, be reverent!  You've been taught and inspired, and now it's time to reflect as you leave."  I was just one of many voices who'd all joined together in worship and memorial, singing music of the highest quality in a setting truly inspiring.

This was the kind of setting and atmosphere that really felt like home.  Not some barely organized plain-jane routine mish-mash of apathetic songs and rote "talks" re-hashed from somebody else's re-hash of somebody else.  For me, at least, it was real worship, real memorial, real connection to the wider world.  In a beautiful setting, with truly inspiring music, and surrounded by people that I knew cared about me not because of my home teaching statistics or anything like that, but simply because I was there, sharing faith with them.

So Brigham Young and Bruce McConkie, you know what you can do with your criticisms of "apostate" Christianity.  I'm finding a lot more inspiration there than I ever found in what you concocted and defended.  By their fruits ye shall know them, remember?

Saturday, September 3, 2011

There and Here

Being a lifelong non-Utahn, somehow I acquired the idea in childhood that Utah, being the "center place of Zion," was particularly special, maybe even sacrosanct.  That's where the prophet lived so it must be the holiest place on earth, right?  When I got older, I wanted to visit Utah and experience such a spiritual and holy place for myself.  Yeah, that's really what I thought as a kid.

Then I grew up, and actually visited.  Then moved there for school even.  Saw the real thing for myself.

Now, before I go further, I must say that there are exceptions to every rule, and I have known many people in Utah who are as true and honest Christians as you will find anywhere.  I value their friendship and respect them greatly for their faith and their dedication to practicing it in the truest sense.

That said, add me to the countless number of people who've gone to "Zion", seen it for themselves, and come away dismayed and jaded almost beyond description that the place which claims to be the home of the prophet and apostles, where the spiritual influence of the church is greatest, should be so shot through with hypocrisy.

Now, if I were naturally nothing but a cynic, this wouldn't surprise me.  Part of me is a cynic, it's true.  But part of me stubbornly clings to some perhaps naive idealism and hope that when people claim to be Christian, they actually will try to be.  That when a church claims to be God's One And Only, it will actually act like it, consistently.  That the culture it creates will reflect that truth and Christian character.  And so when those things don't happen, and the gap between claim and reality is revealed to be so great, then I am all the more disappointed.

Some people might say You set yourself up for this, no earthly organization is perfect, the gospel is perfect but the church isn't, the people will always be fallible and imperfect, yadda yadda.  I know all that.

But other churches don't claim a monopoly on God's authorization.  They don't claim to have a living prophet.  They don't claim to be guided by direct revelation both macro and micro.  That's the thing.  The Mormon church teaches that every member has not only the right but the responsibility to seek personal revelation to instruct and inform their life.  And if they were doing it, and actually getting it, and truth being consistent with itself, then one would think all of them would gradually be moving in the direction of greater truth, light, knowledge, Christlike character, no?

And wouldn't that be especially true in the place with the most active Mormons?  Where the prophet and apostles live?  Shouldn't it, of all, places, at least have the capacity to be further along the road to City of Enoch status than others?

Sigh.  Not quite.  Instead, what I found was what I've subsequently learned many others found too.  And which I won't describe, but I'll let two others describe for me so you, gentle reader, will know I'm not just being a crank.  These comments are from an article on an unrelated subject that ran in the Salt Lake Tribune:

I'm a native Californian LDS living now here in Utah,and I don't "get" the "culture" at all, it's like it's two completely different religions. The real LDS Church, and what so many claim to be, here in Utah. Huge difference, and therein lies the shame.  Since I'm from California, I'm an "outsider", a pagan idolater that actually expects people to do what they say they are going to do, instead of their myriad pathetic excuses, rationalizations and justifications for being a hypocrite.
Treat people like you like to be treated, celebrate the "differences" between you, find something in common, instead of being lazy and refusing to acknowledge the good decent people that may not be active LDS, in our faith, believe in our faith or at odds with our faith. We can STILL find the good, at least that's what I believe and try to practice-admittedly some days I'm lousy at it. 
. . .
I also am a transplant from CA.  It's a night and day difference between the Mormons outside of Utah and Utah Mormons.  I never had a problem with Mormons growing up... my best friends were Mormon, and yet never pressured me to join.

Then I moved out here, and I have changed my view on the Mormons 180 degrees.  Out here, they are arrogant and hypocritical.  And, like another poster said below, they lie constantly to promote their faith.  My CA friends wouldn't try and recruit me, but now I face an endless stream of missionaries.

I'm glad to know I'm not just Utah-jaded, and that out of state Mormons see it too.

It's encouraging to know that not just non-Mormons but even other Mormons see this and react the same way I did.  So I feel vindicated, to a degree.
But it still bothers me.  If the Mormon church didn't make such lofty claims for itself and its people, this would be no big deal.  But it does make those claims.  So when it and its people fall short, the gap is that much greater, and so is my disappointment.  

Other organizations, even religious ones, can aspire to noble things.  And they can fall short.  And that doesn't bother me.  At least they try.  

But this one is in a class by itself.  It claims to be the one true authorized gospel of Jesus Christ restored to the earth with the only authorized priesthood, the only authentic Holy Ghost for inspiration, the only trustworthy conduit for the actual voice of God through a prophet, the "stone cut out of the mountain without hands" that will ultimately fill the whole earth.  Yet what did I see in the place with the greatest number of its adherents anywhere on the planet?  Enough pharisaism, double-dealing, duplicity, bad faith, bigotry, arrogance and complacent smugness to convince both me and (now ex) wife that we would never ever raise kids in Utah.  We wanted them to confront real life head-on, without the suffocating overlay of hypocritical pretense that "all is well."

I've become a pretty practical, results-oriented guy.  I judge things by their fruits.  And when an organization claiming to be God's sole authorized channel for truth, authority and salvific ordinances produces fruit like this in the place where logically its concentration of spiritual power should shine most brightly, then I am forced to question whether it really is any of the things it claims.  Perhaps it's just that the people really aren't practicing what they preach and if they did, the place would be what I first expected.  Perhaps I should forget about the group analysis and look only at individuals.

But groups are nothing more than large numbers of individuals, and one can discern trends about larger things from the behavior of groups.  It's a sad commentary on the group called Mormons that where their group is biggest, they have the reputation they do.  And in my perhaps still naive heart, that is not the kind of result that a truly divine organization would produce.

Friday, September 2, 2011


Having sent the kids off to the grocery store to replenish a few kitchen basics, I finally have a little quiet time to set down some thoughts here again.

I've told only selected friends about my resignation from the Mormon church.  I've not announced it on Facebook and I certainly haven't told anyone in my family of origin, who are already having extreme difficulty with my coming out.  Friends' reactions have varied widely.  Some have praised me for courage.  Some have wondered what took me so long.  Some have been matter of fact, saying "whatever makes you happy."  A couple were quite indignant.

One guy, a friend since college days who's spent his life teaching for the Church Educational System in Utah, was probably most upset.  His almost instant response was a very agitated "Well one of us has been completely deceived!"  Eventually he calmed down, but the reaction was very telling.  He's known me for long enough that he understands I don't do things rashly, and that when it comes to major decisions, I do my homework thoroughly in advance.  So I wasn't just some superficial, ignorant crank whose judgment he could dismiss as ill-informed.  He knew my previous depth of commitment and understanding.  He knew my record of church service.  And for someone that educated and knowledgeable to conclude that it just ain't so, that he'd been wasting a lot of time trusting things that didn't deserve it, well, that shook my friend to his foundations.  It took hours of conversation to calm him down and persuade him that I wasn't going to try to talk him into doing what I'd done, and that if Mormonism worked for him and helped him be a better person, then I'd say great, wonderful, good for you.  The hardest thing for him was to overcome all the "either-or" programming that instantly pushed him to fearing I'd be a raving hostile apostate.  He seemed to think there wasn't any other kind.  I never bring up the issue now, if he wants to, that's fine, but obviously so far he doesn't.  That's okay.

Another friend who's also gay but remains active in the church was angry with me because I hadn't insisted on the "court of love" thing so I could pull a Thomas More vigorously denouncing prejudice and defending truth before Parliament thing before the stake presidency and high council.  Except I would defend equal treatment and tolerance for gay people and denounce homophobia and bigotry and maybe open their eyes.  Meh.  While I admired his passion for speaking out in defense of truth as he sees it, and I was flattered by his belief that I could have made that kind of difference, he didn't know the local authorities like I did.  Ultimately I did talk with both bishop and stake president and it went wonderfully well.  More on that later.  But at the time I had no idea what might happen.  And everybody knows what happened to Thomas More after he gave his speech.

Tomorrow is my one year anniversary of resignation from the Mormon church.  And I have lots of friends who remain there, even gay friends who are still believing Mormons and trying to reconcile like I did.  I talk with them, read their blog posts, their Facebook updates, comments and questions.  So filled with sincere faith and obvious desire to continue in the church.

I can be the diplomat, no problem.  I'm not wanting to unleash a torrent of anti-Mormon content in their direction.  I truly do try to practice what I preach, live and let live, respect others' freely-chosen beliefs as long as they do no harm to others.  Even if I think the beliefs are flat-out wrong, even fraudulent.  I believe in freedom of choice and self-determination, how could I do otherwise.

I was in the same position as my still-Mormon friends for most of my life till I started looking at it all with objectivity and no agenda.  I used to trust completely subjective feelings as trumping anything objective and empirical too.  I've grown beyond that now and I trust the integrity of truth to be consistent with itself and able to withstand any examination no matter how rigorous.  And in my opinion, Mormon claims can't withstand that kind of scrutiny.

So it's weird to see my still-faithful Mormon friends talk about Mormon stuff as if it were all irrefutable truth.  Things I've thoroughly and exhaustively examined and found to be false, or distorted beyond all semblance of veracity, or misrepresented, or so incomplete as to be totally untrustworthy.  It kind of makes me feel like I used to when the kids were very small and talked so seriously about what the Easter Bunny or Santa Claus would bring.  I didn't dare tell them what I knew, of course, it would have devastated their childlike innocence.  I never saw any harm in those childhood myths that help make the world a more magical and wonderful place.

But for educated grown-ups to cling to beliefs about alleged facts that don't stand up to adult-level scrutiny, for them to make life judgments based on those beliefs, for them to treat others fairly or spitefully as they think their religious beliefs require, that is a different thing altogether.  I concede that I was for a long time part of the group I'm now gently, respectfully, taking issue with.  I know people have their own timetables and abilities for this kind of thing.  That's why I don't presume to criticize any of my still-Mormon friends for their beliefs.  If they're happy where they are, then I don't want to discomfit them gratuitously.

But privately, I struggle just a teeeeeeeeentsy bit.  Because I know they're smart.  Their hearts are good.  They are well-intentioned.  They are talented.  I want to believe the best of them.  And I honestly and truly believe that I am right, and the Mormon church is wrong.  So it grates just a tiny bit for me to see my smart, good-hearted, talented, well-intentioned friends continue to believe in, trust, and make life decisions in light of a religion that I think, to put it bluntly, is deceiving them.  Nobody likes to see their friends taken in, especially about such important things.  I care about them a lot and I don't want to see them hurt.  And while I know the Mormon church can create and do a lot of good things, it has also inflicted incredible pain and tragedy on lots and lots of people, especially gay people and their families.  On gay people as they try to resolve the completely impossible conundrum of being happily gay and happily Mormon--it can't be done, utterly impossible.  And on their families, whom the church persuades to mourn and grieve for the "loss" of their gay children from the eternal family just because a kid is gay and realizes a happy, fulfilled life as a gay Mormon is impossible.  It's cruel and barbaric what the church does to those families.  The unnecessary anguish it inflicts is unconscionable.

But ultimately it's their choice.  If they want to talk about such stuff with me, I'm happy to do it.  But I won't push them.  If I'd been pushed I would have pushed back; hell, I did, a lot.  I remember doing it.  I changed when I was ready.  I just have to continue to be the respectful diplomat, love and respect my friends sincerely, as I do, and hope that someday they will see things as I do.  And if they don't, I'll still love them.  Though I don't accept the Mormon version of Christianity anymore, I still try to follow the Savior's teachings, and I still believe that charity--the pure love of Christ--never faileth.