The word “Anti-Mormon” has dogged me ever since my first serious questions and doubts about the Church claims of truth, the version of history the Church taught, and some elements of LDS culture began weighing upon me years ago. I began studying in earnest and ran smack into the Anti-Mormon wall.
I was afraid of that word. I was afraid that I might become a victim of so-called Anti-Mormon people, Anti-Mormon literature and Anti-Mormon websites. I was afraid that what I found and what I was learning were somehow coming from “Anti-Mormon” sources. Back then, I thought that just about anything that came from an “Anti-Mormon” source had to be a lie. Yet, time after time, I would confirm facts that I was sure were “Anti-Mormon” lies. That confirmation would come from Church sources. Things that I knew to be true after confirming them from Church sources I was being told by fellow members that they were lies and untrue. Trust began to be shaken. While debate rages over the many interpretations of facts both pro/anti and every shade in between, the facts themselves remained stubborn. You either struggle to account for them, or you choose to ignore them.
Many of us, who for most of our lives had so much faith in the Church, and incredible faith in a God who would answer prayers impacting eternal salvation much like he had for Joseph Smith, find it difficult to ignore difficult questions and difficult to believe that God would help us find our keys, but not help us resolve an issue that had an impact on our testimonies. We were not afraid to confront them. I was one who was sure that the issues raised would turn out to be either Anti-Mormon lies, or that some perfectly logical explanation existed, or perhaps that some fact that I was missing would be found. Ultimately, given that I was searching with a sincere heart and real intent, that God would answer a specific prayer about the specific topic being researched.
The more I learned about issues that for some reason were not found in any manual, I sought out people to discuss it. Did they know about this? Did they have any insights? Was I living in a hole? What were their thoughts? Could they point me to a source that I was unaware of?
At first I turned to my wife. I was hit with an immediate threat. Everything I read was from Satan, if I left the Church, she would divorce me, she told me to get my head out of the Anti-Mormon world. She did not believe that I had confirmed the issues as legitimate questions from Church sources. Nor did she care to see that for herself. Talking to her about this created enough strife in our marriage that we could not talk about it anymore.
I next turned to my Bishop. He thought the questions were interesting, but he did not want to discuss them. He thought he might look them up after he was released. But his focus had to be on building faith…He suggested that I ignore it all.
These were questions that I dared not raise during a Sunday School Class, or Priesthood. There was no opportunity to do so, since none of the lessons ever addressed any of the questions that I had. I also felt that raising them in Church would detract from the Spirit and purpose of the meeting. SO I kept silent about them in Church. There just seemed to be nowhere to go to discuss these things.
I took to social media, mainly Facebook. I had a much wider group of LDS friends online…not just those I ran into in my ward or stake, but LDS friends from my mission, from the ward I grew up in, my young single adult wards, and so on. Surely, someone out there would know something I did not. I talked to my LDS friends because I trusted them and because I did not want to talk with the so called Anti-Mormons about my questions. And of course, members tell you to avoid talking to them, so I did.
The reaction was interesting. Some certainly did join in on the discussions. I learned a lot from them and I truly enjoyed the back and forth that inevitably occurs when many different people engage. . It was great to get a wide variety of views. I soon realized that many were watching my discussions online without participating. Some of them wrote to me directly and privately, thanking me for asking questions they had but never had the courage to ask. I had more support than I thought. I started gaining followers as people heard I was openly discussing more difficult questions on my Facebook page. I did not seek out these followers, they just came on their own.
But then the criticisms began. At first they were gentle, warning me that some people had weaker testimonies and could be impacted by our discussions negatively. Some began to wonder if I were out to discredit the Church. Some wrote to me directly, asking me to stop or asking me to continue the discussion somewhere more private. And of course, someone “out of concern” reported my activity to the Bishop.
In deference to those who were worried that I was impacting people’s testimonies, I created my first Facebook group. A place reserved only for those who were interested in discussing Mormonism and unafraid to examine closely each of the issues. The group was a closed group. No way that anyone who did not want to engage in those discussions would see it. But that was not enough. It wasn't long before I was accused of setting up an Anti-Mormon group in an attempt to persuade all my friends the Church was wrong.
I also started blogging about what I was learning , what I was feeling and what I was observing. It was just a place to capture my thoughts, record them for later review. I would share the blog with others so I could get their reactions… Was I right? Was I wrong? Was I missing something? Was there a better way of looking at things? I just placed it out there. I did not encourage anyone to read it. I really did not care if anyone read it. But I certainly did welcome any and all reactions from anyone who did.
Once again, I was reported to the Bishop. More and more people became convinced that I was on some type of vendetta against the Church, attempting to undermine the faith of others. All I was trying to do was to shore up my own faith which by this time had begun to falter.
The Bishop talked with me in his office and he directly asked me to stop writing about the Church? What??!! I could not believe what he asked. I grew up loving the LDS doctrine regarding the fight for Free Agency led by Christ and Michael in the pre-existence. I felt that that such a fight was my fight. Yet here was my Bishop asking me to no longer write or discuss what I was learning. It felt more like the Bishop was embracing Satan’s plan who would make sure everyone was saved by enforcing conformity, by taking away free agency and by extension, the right to question. I asked him point blank “Are you trying to muzzle me?” That took him aback. My Bishop is a good man and was a good friend. I don’t think he honestly recognized that he was doing precisely that. He backtracked and emphatically said no, but was unable to say more.
Why are people who ask difficult and perhaps critical questions in a sincere search for truth made to feel like pariahs in the Church? For many devout members, their definition of “sincere questions with real intent” are only those that lead to a testimony of the Church. All other questions are perceived as an intentional attempt to undermine the Church.
I have since been called many names that go along with being an Anti-Mormon. I am also a Church hater, a follower of Satan, one of Satan’s minions. I have denied Christ and have crucified him anew. I am one of the elect who has been deceived. I have been accused of intentionally attempting to lead children of other members astray. I’ve been told that I am on an Anti-Mormon tirade and that I am campaigning to get people to leave the Church. I have been compared to Judas and someone who would be among the crucifiers of Christ. Need I say more? Why would I want to be a part of people who think that of me?
If anything, those accusations have raised resentment and in some cases, anger, in many people like me. We were just seeking answers to very hard questions, questions that were disturbing to us and were disturbing to our understanding of LDS claims of truth. We took those questions to our LDS fellowship in good faith seeking support and direction. Instead, we get accused of attempting to undermine the Church and lead others astray. We have been rebuffed. I am not surprised that many of my friends who have experienced this have become angry and resentful as to how they were treated by some members. I totally understand why some of them indeed have become “Anti-Mormons” To be sure, there are definitely people who are Anti-Mormon and proud of it. Zelph on the shelf has a great article entitled: "Why I'm proud to be an Anti-Mormon" describing their own feelings on this similar topic. http://zelphontheshelf.com/why-im-proud-to-be-anti-mormon/
But what is an Anti-Mormon? Perhaps I am in some denial protesting against being labeled an Anti-Mormon when I really might be. I asked a bunch of my devout LDS friends on how they defined an Anti-Mormon. Four clear themes arose from their answers.
1) An Anti-Mormon is someone who was a strong emotion/feeling of hatred towards the Church and/or its members.
2) An Anti -Mormon is someone who is actively and intentionally trying to persuade others that the LDS Church is not true.
3) An Anti-Mormon is someone who is actively and intentionally trying to undermine confidence in the leaders of the Church
4) An Anti-Mormon is someone who is actively and intentionally attempting to undermine the credibility of the LDS Church as a religious organization.
Using the above four points as a definition of an Anti-Mormon, here are my reactions:
1) I do not hate the Church. To hate the Church would be to hate myself. I was raised and grew up a Mormon by a single Mother who was a convert. The ward I grew up in was amazing and they were a huge support to my mother and sisters and I. I loved my mission and do not regret serving one. I am proud of the LDS ancestry that all LDS members inherit. What the pioneers accomplished was incredible in the midst of the hardships they endured should bring the admiration of anyone. I do not hate any church members either. The ones that I know are all good people striving hard to follow the Prophet and follow Christ as best as they can. Those who have been antagonistic towards me have truly been a minority of the members that I personally know, but with enough motivation in them to silence me that thanks to their playing Big Brother and turning me in to my Bishop and later having members of the Stake Presidency watching whatever I said or wrote. Like it or not, I will always be a Mormon and I still have a great love for all of my LDS friends and family. I still to this day defend the Church to those who are viewing some aspect of it incorrectly.
2) I have no intention or desire to convince anyone else that the LDS Church is not true. I have come to my own conclusions, but those are my own. Everyone is free to seek their own answers to life’s great questions. But that doesn’t mean that I will stop writing or thinking about the Church either. I want to know what LDS members think of the issues that face them today and that are more and more making it into mainstream media for millions of non-Mormons to digest as well. Woiuldn't they rather have their voice heard as a response than those of people who hate them? If I wanted to destroy a members testimony, I would actively and intentionally push the CES letter on my devout LDS friends, I would continually attack the historicity of the Book of Mormon, I would attack other foundational aspects of the claims of the church. I would do so openly and publicly. But I do not. I probably post more positive articles about the Church than negative ones. On the other hand, if anyone asks me, I will answer any question about the Church honestly. If someone asks me, I will explain why I left the Church. The path of someone questioning the Church is a hard and lonely one. I traveled it. I would not want anyone to do that alone. So I will always be there to help someone on that path. They do not have to agree with me. I’m fine with that. But I will be a place where any one can ask me anything, explore their thoughts and feelings and I will do my best to respond and be fair
3) I have no intention of undermining any current leader of the Church. I may disagree with them, I may point out contradictions or inaccuracies. But since when did the “rules” change so that any disagreement with a Church leader is viewed as an attempt to undermine them and dismiss their credibility? How many of us have had moments of serious disagreement with our parents? Yet in those disagreements and times of criticism, do we not still love them? Do we not not think they are a very credible influence in our lives? We do not attempt to smear their names publicly.
4) I have no intention of undermining the Church itself. Once again, I do disagree with the Church, but honestly, I am just one small person. A Church with millions of active members around the world that is as powerful and rich as the LDS Church, with billions of dollars of assets at their control, a top leadership that is filled with people with Harvard MBA’s, Law Degrees and PhD's as worldly proofs of their brilliance, such a church is hardly threatened by someone like me. If they were, it would be akin to straining at a gnat.
I may no longer believe in the historicity claims of the Book of Mormon, I may no longer agree with the general principles and doctrines of the foundation of the Church and how that was taught. I may no longer view Joseph Smith as a prophet. I may still want to discuss openly my thoughts, feelings and things that I learn about the Church with other members to get their views. I may still want to see what members of the Church think about the issues that of the day that are facing them and getting lots of press.
But I am NOT an Anti-Mormon.