Leaving Mormonism





Leaving the Mormon Church: Personal, versus Intellectual, Turning Points

by Steve Benson

Personal Breaking Points in Leaving the Mormon Church

I would note that, based on both my own individual experience and my general observation of others, that many individuals end up leaving Mormonism for a combination of reasons: personal, emotional and intellectual—but that it is often the negative personal experiences that tend to crystallize, focus and propel them to take the final step of actually disassociating from the LDS Church.

These personal experiences can take many forms, including:

--marital stress with a TBM spouse or with other family members;

--the discovery of acts of hypocrisy or other inappropriate conduct by formerly trusted and respected Church members and/or leaders;

--a sense of personal betrayal or abusisve treatment at the hands of Church authorities; and

--conflicts with Church leaders who misuse their authority in heavy-handed efforts to control one’s individual life and decisions.

My Intellectual Path Toward Jettisoning Mormonism

For years leading up to my ultimate decision to resign from Church membership, I had been actively investigating several basic issues of Mormon doctrine, history and practice, including:

--the historicity of the Books of Mormon and Abraham;

--the “translation” of the fraudulent Kinderhook Plates;

--the Masonic origins of the Mormon temple ceremony;

--the rewriting and altering of Church history;

--the question of consistency within Mormon doctrines;

--the racist and sexist teachings of Mormon scripture; and

--the reversal and denial of official Mormon teachings

The more I studied in these areas (reading many sources from both “pro” and “con” perspectives), the more I developed an intellectual resistance to, and eventual disbelief in, bedrock Mormon claims. In fact, I had reached the point of intellectual rejection of most of the above areas some time before I formally withdrew from the Church.

Breaking from Activity

Even in the final stages of my growing intellectual disenchantment with Mormonism, I nonetheless remained active, as I struggled up to the last moment attempting to reconcile my growing doubts with my continued, but declining, activity.

Ultimately, however, the rift between the two became so wide that I found it necessary to put my Church participation on hold, without actually yet resigning my membership.

For instance, when I concluded that there was no other reasonable explanation to account for the obvious connection between the LDS temple rituals and the rites of Freemasonry, I stopped paying tithing and discontinued temple attendance.

When I reached the point where I could no longer accept the Book of Mormon as an authentic historical document, I notified my bishop that I could not, in good conscience, continue teaching my Aaronic Priesthood class that it was a genuine ancient artifact. I did, however, offer to continue instructing the young men under my charge, on the condition that I be allowed to focus on issues of human character development and general moral behavior—but not on the Book of Mormon. My bishop found this offer unacceptable and released me.

I eventually discontinued my hometeaching duties and requested that the hometeachers assigned to our family stop making their monthly visits.

I turned down a calling from the stake president to be ward mission leader.

In short, I needed time and space to deal with the steadily growing gap between what I had been taught was true about Mormonism and what I was discovering was, in reality, false about Mormonism.

My Own Personal Experiences: The Basis for My Ultimate Break from Mormonism

As important as my intellectual awakening to the falsity of Mormon claims was to my eventual decision to leave the Church, the most powerful influence in that ultimate decision took the form of personal experiences, from youth to adulthood, which served to raise growing doubts in my mind about the Church’s claims to divine and singular authority over my life.

What made these personal experiences even more powerful to me than the intellectual arguments was their direct and obvious effect on my individual life, as brought on by people I knew and had contact with in the Church--from family, to teachers, to Church leaders.

The cumulative effect of these personal experiences led me to make the final decision to leave the Mormon Church. The intellectual reasons served to reinforce and validate that decision.

What follows is a list of the personal experiences, in cumulative order, that formed the underpinnings for my decision to resign my membership in the Church. These included:

--the failure of a priesthood “healing” blessing, given to me as a young boy while hospitalized for pneumonia, to have any discernable effect on my recovery;

--the false promise made to me in my patriarchal blessing that I would return from my full-time mission to find things just about the way I left them. Contrary to the blessings assurances, my girlfriend, whom I wanted to marry, died barely six weeks into my mission. Within a year, several members of my Seminary class, along with their instructor, were killed or injured in a tornado while returning from a Church trip to Nauvoo;

--the failure of “the Spirit” to register positively when I heard a flamboyant youth fireside speaker reveal to us the Masonic origins of the Mormon temple ceremony (including garment wearing), even though many of my peers in attendance were moved to Holy Ghost-inspired tears;

--my family’s discouragement of me from making any public reference to struggles I had experienced on my mission with my own testimony, insisting to me that I, in fact, possessed a testimony of the truthfulness of the Gospel and that it was my duty to set an example for others in the Church to follow;

--unjustified perks and privileges provided family members of high-ranking Church leaders, including free passes to General Conference that were expressly off-limits to non-family members; reserved seating in the Tabernacle for relatives of Church leaders; and access to special lunches for the kin of General Authorities during Conference proceedings;

--the effort of my grandfather, Ezra Taft Benson (after being solicited to intervene by my parents), to stop my planned marriage to Mary Ann. He did so by abusively invoking his authority as President of the Council of the Twelve Apostles in order to exact my compliance—commanding me that I should defer to parental “inspiration” and seek family peace, rather than make my own decision on whom I should marry;

--the refusal of a trusted BYU professor to answer my growing doubts about Book of Mormon historicity, saying that I needed to put them on the shelf and accept LDS scriptures on faith;

--the on-the-spot demand of another BYU instructor (in a private interview into which he called me) that I bear him my testimony of the atoning sacrifice of the Savior (I felt intruded upon and left the encounter in tears);

--the efforts by my grandfather and other family members to stop me from completing an undergraduate BYU research paper on the Church’s official position on the theory of organic evolution, fearing that it would be critical of Mormon leadership and undermine faith and testimony in the Brethren;

--the refusal of Church leaders (including President Spencer Kimball, Apostles Bruce R. McConkie and Mark E. Peterson, Correlation Committee Director Roy Doxey, Kimball’s personal secretary Arthur Haycock and my grandfather) to give me direct and straightforward answers to my questions on the subject of organic evolution; combined with the Church’s refusal to honestly acknowledge to its members the actual history of the official LDS position on organic evolution on the grounds that to do so would be too controversial;

--the extremist political views personally conveyed in our home by my grandfather and other family members, including that the U.S. civil rights movement was Communist-inspired; that President Eisenhower himself may have been a Communist; that political liberals (such as apostles Hugh B. Brown and Neal A. Maxwell) could not be good Church members; that the John Birch Society was the most effective organization (outside the Mormon Church) in fighting Communism; and that the Beatles were Kremlin understudies groomed to sow revolution in America;

--the attitude in certain quarters of the Benson family, conveyed to me as a 4th-grader on the day he was assassinated, that President John F. Kennedy deserved to be killed;

--the preaching of racist religious and political doctrines in my home and/or in the Church—including opposition to school integration; support of segregationist George Wallace’s presidential platform as being more in line with those of the Founders than that of either the Republican or Democratic parties; spiritual discrimination against those of African and Native American descent, on the basis of their skin color supposedly indicating a sinful legacy; opposition to my participation in demonstration marches urging the passage of a Martin Luther King, Jr., holiday in Arizona; and the refusal of the Mormon Church to officially endorse passage of a King holiday in Arizona;

--efforts by an anonymous Mormon Apostle, local Arizona Church leaders and Mormon political authorities to silence my Mormon-related public cartoon criticism of LDS governor Evan Mecham--including direct contact from the state regional representative of the Church with me, a phone call to my stake president from H. Burke Peterson of the Presiding Bishopric and complaints from a Mormon state senator—all which led to my eventual removal from the stake high council; this combined with efforts by local Mormon Mecham supporters to have me excommunicated for my opposition to Mecham, whom they claimed had been elected by God’s will;

--a warning from my hometeacher that if I did not stop asking critical questions about the Book of Abraham, I would be excommunicated;

--personal meetings with my stake president about my growing disillusionment with Mormon Church doctrines and practices, followed by his personal letters to me, in which he accused me of being consumed with pride and in the grip of Satan, and in which he also warned me to cease my public cartoon criticism of unequal treatment of LDS women by the Mormon Church;

--criticism by a local Mormon male stake youth leader of Mary Ann’s Sunday School lesson to a joint young men’s and young women’s class, in which she taught that during the last days of Jesus’ life, his female friends were more faithful and brave than were his own apostles (a criticism that was, in typical Mormon sexist fashion, relayed to me by the stake leader, rather than directly to Mary Ann);

--efforts by Mormon Church General Authorities and members of my own family to discourage me from speaking the truth about the Church’s deliberate misrepresentations of my grandfather’s actual physical and mental health, combined with the threat from my own family that if I continued to speak out publicly about his health, I would be barred from seeing my grandfather; this last warning was issued to me in the name of protecting God’s prophet from enemies in the press (of which I happened to be a member); and, finally,

--admissions by Apostles Neal Maxwell and Dallin Oaks in private conversations with Mary Ann and myself in their Church offices just prior to us leaving Mormonism, which included discussion of what they themselves regarded as problems with Book of Mormon historicity; failed prophecies of Mormon Church presidents; contradictory accounts of the First Vision; Joseph Smith’s inconsistent behavior in the wake of receiving the First Vision; difficulties with Smiths’ alleged Book of Abraham translation; the role of F.A.R.M.S. in protecting the Quorum of the Twelve from criticism; the actual means by which revelation is received by Mormon prophets; public lies made by Oaks about Apostle Boyd K. Packer’s inappropriate involvement in a Salt Lake City excommunication case; the nature of Maxwell’s and Oaks’ own testimonies of the Gospel; their obsessive concern for secrecy concerning our conversations with them; and their compulsion to pry into our personal lives regarding our individual worthiness to ask them questions in the first place.

Conclusion: Leaving the Church Because of Negative Personal Experiences, Not Intellectual Arguments

Many questioning Mormons harbor serious intellectual doubts about the claims of the Church. These concerns are real, valid and substantial.

But it is often the grinding effect of jarring, personal, negative experiences in their own lives with Mormon Church authority, family pressure, leader and member hypocrisy, individual betrayal and a feeling of suffocating control that leads many of them to finally make their escape from the captivity of the Mormon gospel gulag.

That certainly was the case for me--and, judging from the wrenching personal stories many others have shared with me--also the case for many others.

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