Or maybe Mormonism lost me.
In 2005 I was living in Texas and working at a job I absolutely hated. But other than my job, life was good. My wife and I were reasonably content and happy, and our children were giving us the normal mix of pride and grief that children do.
At church I was in the high priests group leadership, and I was dedicated to my calling and to the church. At that point in my life (I had just turned 40), I probably had a less literal approach to Mormon history and scripture than most owing to my participation on various pro-LDS message boards over the years (from alt.religion.mormon to the MAD board), but I had a testimony, and I knew the church was God’s kingdom on earth.
A lot of little things nagged at me over the years, but I always subordinated them to my testimony. I was convinced that God had spoken to me, and nothing else mattered.
But on August 8, I was getting ready to go home from work when a good friend called from the Church Office Building in Salt Lake, where he worked and still does work. He sounded distressed.
He had just learned that Joseph Smith had pressured Newel K. Whitney and Heber C. Kimball to give him their teenaged daughters as wives in exchange for the family’s exaltation.
“That can’t be true, can it?” he asked, and I could hear the anguish in his voice.
“Yes, that’s true,” I said. I wished I could have told him it wasn’t, but it was true.
Then he said he had learned that Joseph Smith had sent men away on missions and then taken their wives for his own once the husbands were out of town.
“That isn’t true, is it?” he asked again, this time sounding more desperate.
“Yes, that’s true, too,” I said.
His voice became very serious. “The church is still true, isn’t it, John?”
I thought for a moment. Suddenly I realized that I had been giving Joseph Smith a pass for reprehensible behavior that I wouldn’t excuse in anyone else. I had accepted that, although it wasn’t literally a true history, the Book of Mormon was nevertheless inspired scripture.
Now I was faced with scripture that wasn’t actually true coming from a man who acted just like you would expect a false prophet to act.
“John, it’s still true, isn’t it? You believe it’s true, don’t you?” he asked again.
“That’s something you’ll have to work out on your own,” I said. “I can’t tell you what you should believe.”
In that moment all the excuses I had made for Joseph Smith evaporated. Suddenly I didn’t have to dismiss obvious problems with the Book of Mormon and the Book of Abraham. The rewriting of modern revelation was no longer a mystery. Bank fraud and adultery and cut-rate swindling suddenly came into focus.
I went home that day and said to my wife, “I do not believe in the church anymore.”
She encouraged me to take President Hinckley’s challenge and prayerfully reread the Book of Mormon by year’s end. To make a long story short, rereading it just opened up more problems, which prayer could not resolve. I ended up sitting in a coffee shop in late December, reading Moroni while sipping a rather nice triple espresso.
Life hasn’t always been easy since that day, as many of you know, but I can honestly say that I am more at peace with myself and with the world since I figured out Mormonism
Oh, and my friend still works at the COB. But he doesn’t believe, either. Of course, he never did.