Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Breaking It To The Kiddos

Four and a half years ago, on a Sunday morning in mid-September, Elizabeth and I got our young family ready for the day. Our kids were ages nine, seven, and three. For the first time in their lives, we didn't get them ready for church. No frantic scramble to comb hair and pile in the car. No screaming parents or crying kids. Instead, we put on hiking shoes, packed sunscreen, water bottles and a lunch, and headed off for the mountains.

We went to Mt. Falcon park, an iconic Front Range foothill overlooking Denver, Red Rocks Amphitheater, and our own neighborhood in Littleton. A couple miles of trail stretches from the parking lot towards the peak. Halfway along this hike there are ruins of an old stone house, and then the trail continues to some other ruins once intended to be a summer residence for U.S. presidents. Both of these homes had been repeatedly struck by lightning until they were eventually abandoned to ruin. Now they make interesting hiking destinations for Colorado weekenders.

Along the trail, there is a pull out among some pine trees, with a cluster of large granite rocks. This was a resonant spot for me and Elizabeth. We'd had our first kiss right there about fourteen years previously. 

We sat the kids on the rocks looking out over the city, pulled out the lunches, let the littlest toddle around. We told them that this was the spot where Mommy and Daddy had our first kiss. We reenacted it, which they thought was both funny and gross. Eventually we asked, "Did you guys notice that we didn't go to church today?" "Yeah," they responded, "but this is way funner!"

Here's some context: the previous week we had decided, after a particularly painful testimony meeting, that we were finally done with being Mormon. This was a huge decision, not made quickly or easily. We had agonized over it for seven months. We had already come to the conclusion that it wasn't true, not in the way it had been presented to us, but we still hoped that we could find enough good there to salvage something useful. (And I acknowledge that there is still truth and value there for many.) But for us, the intellectual, emotional, and spiritual compromises required of us to stay became untenable. Mostly, we were scared and confused. We didn't have a relationship with another soul on planet earth who had ever left the church. There was no roadmap, nobody to talk to. We guessed--correctly--that there would be huge ramifications amongst our family and friends, that we would be ostracized, vilified, patronized, fasted-and-prayed for. That seemed a hefty price to pay, and for what? There was no clear direction for us to follow beyond the church. It seemed like all paths were shrouded in mists of darkness. Yet those twinkling lights of truth kept beckoning from beneath the mists.

One day, my daughter had come home from church with a coloring page of a polygamist-looking pioneer woman with the caption, "I Will Be A Mother In Zion." (This was not too long after the raid of the FLDS compound in Texas, and all of the polygamist women appearing brainwashed on TV asking for their children back.) Whoa. I suddenly saw something through my daughter's eyes that I had never seen before: the suffocating weight of social and doctrinal pressure on women to fulfill first and foremost their divine destiny to bear children. For sure, I wanted my daughter to someday experience the joy of motherhood and family. But not as her final, ultimate goal. This was my brilliant, beautiful, compassionate, witty, precocious, precious daughter! She could do anything she wanted in life. No limits! Yet here I was, allowing well-intended others to wrap these chains of "roles and duties of women" around her young, impressionable brain. 

We realized that we were playing a dangerous game. In order to elude the imminent pains of us leaving, we were continuing to subject our children to a belief system and all of its ramifications that we no longer held to. We were not being authentic to ourselves, to fellow church members, and mostly to our children. The concern of "What will happen to our kids if we leave?" suddenly inverted to "What will happen to them if we stay?"

We decided that we owed it to them to lay it out on the table, and to let them know that our decision was not an act of weakness, but of strength, courage, intelligence and integrity. That there were going to be some hard feelings with relatives and friends. That nobody else in their world would understand our decision, but that we (the five of us) would stick together no matter what.

And that's how we arrived at that spot in the pines on Mt. Falcon on a Sunday morning in September. "Well, kiddos, the reason we're not at church is because Mom and I have decided that we are no longer going to be Mormon." This surprisingly didn't seem to carry the shock waves that we thought it would. My middle son asked, "So that means we don't have to go to church anymore? Yes!" 

Thus began for the next hour a powerful, open, loving discussion with our young children that ranks in the top ten best moments of my life. We told them that we had believed so strongly in the church our entire lives, that we had built everything around it, believing that it was exactly what it said it was, the only true church and the only way to salvation. We went on missions, to BYU, married in the temple, paid tithing, served in callings. It was an honor to do all of this because we believed it was the most important thing in the world. But as we got older, we started to see things in a different light, and we learned that the church had not been truthful with us about some very important things. 

Joseph Smith's rampant polygamy and polyandry,
represented in this chart, is now officially
acknowledged by the Mormon church.
Sorry, but as a father of a 13 year old girl,
that's just not something I would want
to defend as moral or divine.
In an age appropriate way, we then told them about polygamy/polyandry. Joseph Smith was married to 34 women, while 11 of them were married to other men, and a few of them were fourteen year old girls. To which my nine year old daughter said, "That's weird, why would anybody want to be married to 34 women?" Exactly. And to make it worse, he lied about it, and the church lied about it for him. Then we talked about the Book of Mormon being a fairy tale that was disproven by science and historians, and said, "It's got some great stories that we all love, but wouldn't that be weird if we built a religion out of Dr. Seuss?" And lastly we addressed blacks and the priesthood, and said that we refused to believe in a god who would judge people by the color of their skin, because even if the church didn't treat people that way now, it did for 150 years, and if they were wrong about something as important as that, then maybe they were wrong about being the only true church.

Then I gave them an analogy that apparently stuck, because they still bring it up today and laugh about it. I said, "Imagine if the Pepsi Center (sports arena in Denver that seats 20,000 people) were filled with everybody who had ever lived. Everybody has lived a full life, filled with happiness, sadness, adventure, boredom, family, sickness, friends, faith, etc. Now they're dead and waiting in the Pepsi Center, like it was a prison for spirits. Most of them are confused, and don't know where they are or why they're there. Then with lights and trumpets, Jesus walks into the arena, and a few thousand people cheer, while everybody else wonders, 'Who is this guy?' Then Jesus takes a microphone at the center of the floor and says, 'Alright, all the good Mormons, stand up and follow me! You get to live in heaven and be gods. The rest of you wait here and I'll come back some time to visit you.' So he waves his hand, and six people stand up and follow him out the door. When the door closes, the arena goes dark again, and the other 19,994 all look around in confusion and say, 'What the heck just happened?' Now, would that be fair, kids?" 
This was the image I had of Christ returning in his glory
to claim those whom he would save in the Celestial Kingdom.
It's a beautiful picture, but I always thought it unfortunate
that so few were going to even know who he was,
and only the tiniest fraction would be going with him.
But how lucky was I!

"No, that's not fair," they said, "Why wouldn't Jesus take them all with him?" They got it. They of course couldn't articulate the nuance, but they understood that a God who would save only a chosen few out of the innumerable human masses was not a God of justice, equality, or love, and to believe so devalues the actual lives of almost everyone who's ever lived.

We finished by telling the kids that we believed in love, honesty, equality, justice, science and truth, and that we could no longer trust the church to teach us or them those things. We said that we were a little scared ourselves, but that we were going to be brave and honest rather than continue to teach them things we had come to know were not true. We reassured them that we loved them and that they would always be safe and loved in our home.

Then we asked how they felt about it and if they had any questions. I specifically asked my daughter, since she had been baptized, if she felt comfortable leaving the church. She looked at me full of trust and said, "I'll do whatever you think is right, Dad."

Gulp. That's a lot of pressure on a Daddy. Was I certain of my decision? A few doubts still bubbled in the back of my mind. What if I'm wrong??? (This was before "doubt your doubts" became a thing.)

In a world of uncertainty, how could I be so certain of these conclusions? I couldn't go back to pretending again that I knew things "beyond a shadow of a doubt." Yet failure to act, or acceptance of an inherited status quo, is still a passive kind of action. Based on all the evidence before me, combined with my own intuition and countless hours of pondering, prayer, meditation, and listening for answers, I came to a seismic decision, jointly with my wife: our family was moving on. I felt certain of my earnest intentions and yearning for truth, and certain that even if I was wrong, a loving and just God would honor them. There was that compass again, an invisible magnetic field orienting me, pointing me towards something beyond. In a world where everything else seemed fluid, I still trusted it. 

Our family got up, hugged, and headed back down the trail together, towards the parking lot, towards the unknown, towards hidden light, like seeds in the soil, straining toward the sun. 


  1. Yep. For the kids. Same as us is your story. Well done


  2. Sad. I am amazed at how good Satan is at what he does.

    1. If you think love and concern for one's children come from Satan, who has really been tricked here?

    2. I know right? Tricking people into religions like Mormonism and making them miserable instead of being free and experimenting the life path you choose. Satan likes to make people think that there's only one way through life, like Mormonism does.

    3. Thanks for proving my point guys. I hope your experience at the judgment bar is a pleasant one. Have a great day.

    4. If they serve a decent martini, I'm sure it will be.

    5. Lol, leave it to a Mormon to be ironically judge mental instead of unconditionally loving.

    6. I guess the new testament doesn't matter. Judge not, which is exactly what mormons do with a condeming self-rightous comment like that.

  3. Thanks, what a wonderful story. Life is great, especially once you can let go of the training and learn to really live it. Real friends are great.

  4. I wish you the best going forward and hope you continue to find happiness, but you should at least tell try and represent actual Mormon doctrines and beliefs, correctly. Don't do what you accuse the church of doing. Better yet, just leave it at, "We no longer believe the truth claims of the church," there is no need to misrepresent or even talk about Mormon beliefs.

    1. There is no need? When people invest tens of thousands of dollars in a belief system and contribute thousands of their life's precious few hours (including a mission where I brought many into the church) I think it entitles me or anyone else comment on that belief system as much or as little as they want. I don't feel agree that there is no "need" for me to "even talk about Mormon beliefs". I applaud the other of this post for having the courage to question the belief system he was born into (most people simply accept whatever they were taught as kids). I believe it demonstrates intellectual honesty in its highest form and he has every right to talk about his past beliefs as much or as little as he would like. It sounds like your constraint is based on fear of the truths that are out there.

    2. Genuinely curious, which doctrines and beliefs were incorrectly represented?

    3. Of course. Mormon's don't want you to tell other Mormon's of the issues. In case they leave too.
      I have heard this too. As if I totally forgot all about what the church teaches in my 35 years in the church. Lying for the lord, its the only lying they are allowed to do.
      This was a great story. I only wish my wife was where I am. I still have to watch my kids go to church every Sunday to continued to be brainwashed and weighed down with thoughts of how imperfect they are. It breaks my heart.

  5. Thanks to Bradicus and eight Anonymous-es for reading and responding. To those that found it helpful, I appreciate your kind words. To those that found it Satanic or untruthful, I hold no hard feelings. I understand where you are coming from, because I once would have felt the same way. To the final Anonymous, who felt that I misrepresented Mormon doctrines, are you willing to share specifics? If I'm in error in any way, I would like to correct it. Thanks!

  6. Thank you so much for sharing your journey.

  7. This comment has been removed by the author.

  8. Let me bear my testimony:

    I believe that the Lord, God, created the universe.
    I believe that He sent His only Son to die for my sins.
    And I believe that ancient Jews built boats and sailed to America.

    I believe that God has a plan for all of us.
    I believe that plan involves me getting my own planet.
    And I believe that the current President of The Church, Thomas Monson, speaks directly to God.

    I believe that Satan has a hold of you
    I believe that the Lord, God, has sent me here
    And I believe that in 1978, God changed his mind about black people!

    I believe that God lives on a planet called Kolob.
    I believe that Jesus has his own planet as well.
    And I believe that the Garden of Eden was in Jackson County, Missouri.

    1. This one is my favourite:

      I defy anyone to not at least chair-dance to that. :)


  9. Mark,

    I'm a nevermo who has been extensively researching the LDS and the experience of exmos, in order to be the best possible support I can be for my exmo partner. There are so many complicated and painful scars associated with this, I felt the best I could do would be to expose myself to the information in order to understand the "language" better.

    To you, and anyone reading this who has had the courage to fearlessly examine what you've been told and to decide for yourselves how you want to live, sometimes at great cost: you are among the bravest people that I have ever encountered. I am simply in awe of you. It takes immense intelligence, self-awareness and wisdom to take a step back and see the wood for the trees, let alone to have the integrity to openly declare your new beliefs.

    I hope that the LDS becomes more aware of the shifts that have been taking place (among its members and in the world at large) and evolves to fit modern times, so that at least those who choose to remain Mormon could do so in an environment that supports equality and fairness.

    I wish all of you - you and your family, and any other exmos / future exmos who may see this - every happiness in the future. You have my support and utmost admiration.


  10. I think you and your family will be just fine. The path will emerge. I hope that the faithful LDS who are close to you but cannot see this as a positive move will see this as an opportunity. The opportunity is to become closer in spite of difference. I hope they will want to listen and understand and value that you are sharing your authentic experience with them, and that is an opportunity to become closer. There is something very special when we can genuinely love through our differences. And not love with the goal of helping you return to to faith. Just love. I hope this opens up paths of love you never knew possible.

  11. Beautiful exit story! As a fellow (born-in-the-church) exmo, I echo the sentiments of an earlier poster: you (we) are very, very brave!

  12. Here is a specific. The Pepsi Center analogy is not what would ever happen. That is why the great work of the temples and salvation for the dead happens and will happen throughout the millenium. God gives every single soul a chance, a Godly fair chance to learn/accept the doctrines He teaches through imperfect people and an imperfect, in the sense that it is not run by God but through imperfect humans, organization. I wish you well on your journey just you lost me with the Pepsi Center example. Other questions and comments as well, but since no person or Church can tell every story, to me it makes good sense to focus on the clearer ones. Also, the actions of an individual doesn't mean The Church did something. Most decisions are made by small groups not The Church. Nobody has time to make or be involved in all decisions. Hope this comment isunderstood in my true intent. I truly wish you and yours the best!