I was raised in a large, active LDS family. My father was a BYU professor and active priesthood leader. I graduated from high school in the 80’s in Utah County. I served a mission, married in the temple, and graduated from BYU. My testimony was strong, and I had a strong desire to be involved in the building up of the kingdom of God. My wife and I were devoted to the church and as we started our family, we were conscientious such that everything we did–when to have kids, how many kids to have, what kind of career to pursue, where to live, how to live–we did by first praying and thinking what God would have us do or what would the brethren advise us to do.
I’m not an intellectual. I chose to pursue business as a career and am now a small business owner. But I am naturally inquisitive and analytical and love to study and research topics. As a missionary, I started to take interest in LDS apologetic issues, and upon return home got into studying material like Hugh Nibley and FARMS publications.
I was a very literal believer. The gospel made very logical sense to me. But I also felt the spirit frequently. I believed the emotional and spiritual side of the gospel was more important than the intellectual side. I believed I had both. I loved to bear testimony, speak in church, and participate in callings. I served in young men’s presidencies, as a ward mission leader, and as elder’s quorum president in my 20’s and early 30’s.
When you look at cracks in my literal testimony, it started early and grew slowly. As a missionary, I observed dumb little things that happen on missions and began to modify my view of God directly and actively managing his church through priesthood leaders. Two big issues I was faced with a lot that I didn’t see any good answer for were: 1) priesthood ban for black members and 2) polygamy. After wrestling with this for some time, I settled into a resolution that these were likely examples of where prophets might not have understood and implemented the true will of God and that God allowed it to happen without intervening strongly.
As I continued study of LDS apologetic issues, I started coming across issues again and again, realizing my previous understanding was limited and naive. For example, I had heard of Joseph Smith’s treasure seeking and glass looking, but had assumed this was all “anti-Mormon lies”. Same for some of the more difficult aspects of polygamy. I realized the common apologetic answers for BOM anachronisms or masonic temple ceremony influence were not as strong as I assumed at first glance.
The analogy is commonly used of a member putting difficult questions on a shelf when they’re not sure what to do with it. I added items to my shelf little by little. My shelf took its first major blow in my mid 30’s, circa 2005, with the Book of Abraham. I had been very troubled reading up on this issue in more depth and searched and searched for adequate answers on the LDS apologetics side of it. Nothing made sense. I don’t move quickly on any of these things, but eventually I felt this was no less than a smoking gun, proving Joseph was a fraud.
I wanted the church to be true. I loved the church’s doctrine. I loved the community. I loved raising my children LDS and teaching them the gospel. I was afraid what it would mean for my marriage. I loved my wife dearly, and I knew she wouldn’t look at it the same way I did. But I felt I had to know.
I decided to reopen my study of all historical issues with a new perspective. Instead of looking at them with the outcome already known and trying to backfit a story or reason for the contrary evidence, I decided to look at the issues as fairly and without bias as possible. I wanted to go direct to the source to God and find out the truth. I felt I was acting with courage and integrity, but I still had nagging doubts I was acting purely. I worried I was deceiving myself, and actually acting selfishly or with pride, because everywhere I looked online for answers, I saw LDS questioners and doubters being met with this criticism from believers. But deep down I knew the right path for me.
One challenging aspect was what would I do with the knowledge I understood from a spiritual perspective. I couldn’t deny that I had felt powerful spiritual experiences. I began to reinterpret these spiritual experiences. I had previously prayed to ask God if the Book of Mormon was true and felt he had burned it into my heart that it was true. But now I felt I had enough information to believe it was not true. How could that be? Maybe it meant it is true in a different way than I previously assumed. Maybe simply the message from God was, “I love you. I’m here. Thank you for seeking me.” I don’t believe in dumping or ignoring spiritual experience, but I learned it wasn’t easy to understand the exact meaning.
I made a long and careful study of this. It was difficult to know which sources were trustworthy. Both non-LDS and LDS sources sometimes were manipulative, pushing their own agenda. It was difficult to find unbiased sources. I looked for common elements from both sides and tried to ignore the commentary from each, as I triangulated (and still do today) into what I believe is the best, most accurate historical-factual view. As I looked at each historical issue, each one seemed to come down against the church. As I moved through issue to issue, the case seemed to further be cemented against the church.
About a year or two into this process, I started to feel very angry. I felt angry at God that he led me into this belief in the first place. I felt angry at myself for being “duped”. I felt angry at Joseph Smith. I understood only two positions. It’s true or it’s false. I felt like my discovery would eventually lead me out of the church, which was terribly sad to me. I was raised to love the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. I was raised to dedicate my life to the building up of the Kingdom of God. That was my identity. I embraced it. I loved it.
I spent a couple years in this stage. Then I “came out” to my wife. I was worried it would hurt her testimony, but I realized it was hurting our relationship not to be intimate on this issue. We spent several years in a dialogue over this. She was very hurt and scared at first, but then she came to terms with it. She doesn’t share the same characteristics I have of needing to know all the answers. She’s OK tabling the questions and trusting the Spirit.
The nagging things for me I couldn’t reconcile was:
1. I didn’t literally believe so many aspects of the church. I rejected BOM historicity. I rejected the explanations for the Book of Abraham. I had a very hard time reconciling some of Joseph’s other actions. I had a hard time reconciling my beliefs on evolution and Adam and Eve with LDS theology. I was starting to wonder about the literal divinity of the New Testament Jesus Christ.
2. I believed in God. Though I wondered about the literal divinity of the New Testament Jesus, I felt like I knew my Savior Jesus Christ. I loved the BOM and found in it profound beauty, depth, and truth. I had seen the BOM change people’s lives. I didn’t believe the simple anti-Mormon explanations for Joseph. The answers, if they existed, about the origins of the BOM and the LDS restoration, at a minimum had to be very, very complex and not yet understood by me. I doubted the accounts of literal visitations and direct involvement of God to Joseph and this church, yet I believed in the good and necessity of religion. And I found no other church or religion that was as satisfying and enriching as LDS.
As we sought to find an answer for me and for our family, I came into contact with an alternate view that was outside the box of the only two binary options I thought were possible. This is a non-literal view of religion. This concept was so foreign to me, it took me a few years to come to terms with it completely. At first, it seemed dishonest. Partly due to my own inability to understand the position. And partly due to the fact that it seems some LDS voices promoting the non-literal view are also mixing in some of the LDS apologist tactics of obfuscating and confusing issues, which I always felt was so dishonest.
The book Marcus Borg Heart of Christianity was a real breakthrough. Hearing this perspective from a non-LDS author helped me release the distrust I had in LDS apologists enough to help me understand how to apply the non-literal paradigm concepts to the LDS faith. After attending and serving in church and restudying scripture and historical issues with this new perspective for some time, I’m now all in again.
Today, I have a different testimony but the same testimony. My faith is based on a highly nuanced understanding of religion and symbology. But it’s a living and vibrant faith that motivates and empowers me to seek God and live according to his will for me. I know my Father in Heaven lives. I know Jesus is the Christ. I know the Book of Mormon is true. I know Joseph Smith is a prophet of God and restored the church in modern times. I know Thomas S. Monson is a prophet today and leads and guides this church.