Heather's Faith Transition
This post may be one of the most personal and one of the hardest for me to share. I want you all to know that I don't do it lightly. I really agonized about this, wrote it, read it, re-wrote it, and changed it several times. I understand that what I have to say here could be upsetting and polarizing. Please understand that what I am sharing was my experience, these are my feelings and emotions and you may not all understand; and that's okay. I don't share this to upset anyone, or "preach" to anyone; I share this because it happened to me and it was by far, the most significant event in my life. I know that there are so many others out there that have gone through, or are going through a faith transition. When I first started mine, I felt very alone. I eventually found books, podcasts, and Facebook communities where people had similar experiences, but in the beginning I felt completely alone. If by my sharing this experience helps even one person feel less alone - then I've accomplished something.
Here I go...
I was born and raised in the Latter Day Saint (Mormon) faith. I was blessed as a baby and baptized at eight years old like most LDS kids. My family was always active in the church; we went to church every Sunday (unless we were sick or out of town), my parents always had callings, I went to Young Women's activities, and attended Seminary (for a while). My family was not what I would call "super orthodox" - we rarely had Family Home Evening (LDS families are encouraged to spend time together - usually on Monday nights - having a scripture study or kind of a Sunday School lesson), scripture study or family prayers. But we were definitely raised with the teachings of the Mormon church and an expectation that we would live up to those teachings. The church was a big part of our every day lives.
Although I grew up in Utah, the small town where I grew up was not majority LDS. It was a pretty diverse population (for Utah), with a large population of Roman Catholicism, Greek Orthodox, and Christians. I heard stories later when I was grown about kids being told they could only play with other Mormon kids. That was not the case for me - we were friends with whoever we wanted to be friends with. Of course my parents wanted me to choose good friends, but their religious affiliation didn't really matter. I am thankful for that.
So what happened? I spent a lot of time trying to describe all of this for you but really struggled. I wrote a letter to my family at the early part of this transition, and I realized that sharing that letter with you is probably the best way to convey my experience. I knew that I needed to tell my family about my change in faith. This was a VERY difficult thing for me to do. My family is not the type to talk about feelings, or even serious things very often. We are a family that jokes around and is sarcastic with each other. I am also a very emotional person and I knew that I would not be able to articulate my feelings to my family in a clear way, or without balling my eyes out. That's why I decided to write them letters. You can read a copy of one of those letters here. (I've made a few edits - shown in italics - added some clarification, removed some names, etc. but here is the letter I wrote to my Mom & Dad several years ago.
Dear Mom and Dad,
The first thing I want to tell you both is how much I love you. I love my family so much and I am so blessed to have such a wonderful family and to have such great parents. What I am going to say in this letter may be upsetting to you and it might make you angry. I do not want the things I am going to tell you to come between our relationship. I do not want us to stop talking to each other, to stop seeing each other or anything like that. This family is very important to me and I hope that we can work through this together. I have agonized for months about how to talk to you about these things, and I finally decided that by writing them out, I would be able to tell you what I needed to say without getting too emotional.
I guess I just have to rip off the Band-Aid to get started. I no longer have any beliefs that support the LDS faith. I do not consider myself a Latter Day Saint any longer. I am likely to have my name removed from the membership rolls, at my request, before the end of this year.
How did I come to this conclusion? Well it has taken me some time, a lot of research, prayer, and most of all reading the Bible – the true Word of God.
As I think back on my life, even back into my early teen years, I had questions and doubts about the LDS faith. I never really had a 100% sure testimony of Joseph Smith (Joseph Smith started the Mormon religion back in 1830). To me the story always seemed “fishy” for lack of a better word. However being so young and also not really knowing what else to do with my doubts, I went along with what I had always been taught. (In my opinion, to doubt Joseph Smith is to doubt the whole Mormon faith - it all started with him.) As I grew older into my late teens (my rebellious years) more and more issues came to the forefront. I was always very bothered by the “Sunday” only Mormons. Those who I would see partying on Friday and Saturday nights, but then showed up on Sunday morning to bless the Sacrament (in the LDS faith to have the authority to bless the sacrament, you must be a boy aged 16 or older and have been interviewed by the Bishop and found worthy to receive the priesthood - not just anyone can perform this act), or act as if they were perfect Mormon girls. I couldn’t stand the hypocrisy of it and I didn’t want to participate in it myself. I was also growing weary of the judgmental attitudes I often encountered. I would hear people say “I can’t believe she would wear such-and-such to church today”, and I would think “isn’t it enough for her just to be here?”
I stopped attending LDS services around age 17 or 18. I met Ron right around this time, and I now truly believe that God put us together to work his masterful plan for our lives. Mom, I remember you saying that people would see our engagement picture on your desk at work and that you had at least a couple of people say that it was a shame that we weren’t getting married in the temple (obvious to them because of Ron’s long hair) (The LDS faith has fairly stringent standards for grooming and dress - typically boys are to keep their hair above the collar, no tattoos, no piercings (except for a single ear piercing for women), and modesty in dress is required). You had also told me that you were glad that I was marrying Ron instead of some of the LDS boys that you knew as he was better behaved, kinder and had his life together. I agreed then and I couldn’t agree more now. Like I said, God has a plan for all things.
When Ron and I met and were married, religion and a relationship with God were not important to either one of us. Then something happened that changed us both forever. A few years after we were married Ron’s dad died, somewhat unexpectedly. This put Ron into a deep search for comfort and for the truth. Ron started to attend different churches in San Diego; Catholic churches, and different non-denominational Christian churches. He began reading the Bible earnestly. He even came to the LDS church off and on with me as I went back to church for a short time. Ron went through a radical transformation during this time as he found the truth in the Bible – Gods Word. He became a totally different person. I remember telling my friends how completely different he was. He listened to different music than he ever had before, he talked about different things and he was reading all sorts of Christian history and archaeology books. And he acted different. I was worried – I thought I’d never get my husband back.
I’ll say it again – God has a plan, and he does work in mysterious ways. I really believe that if Ron’s Dad hadn’t died while we were in San Diego – alone and away from our family and support system – that Ron would not have gone on that journey to find the truth and he would not have found it and been saved.
Ron tried really hard those first couple of years to get me to go to the Christian church with him, to get me to read the Bible, to listen to his new Christian music and be interested in all his new interests. I would not have it! I thought he was a wierdo! I thought this was a phase he would come out of once he was done mourning the loss of his Dad. Little did I know that what he had found was so wonderful and joyous.
Thank goodness that Ron is a patient man. And I thank God for God’s plan and for never forgetting about me. It took another 12 years for me to be ready to listen when the Spirit was knocking at my door.
(In 2005 we moved back to Utah. At the time we left San Diego, I was attending the LDS church fairly frequently, so when I saw a job posting in the Salt Lake paper (yes, we had to look through the paper back then!), for an Accounts Payable position with Zions Securities Corporation (who at the time, was a management company for the LDS church's for-profit real estate properties). Because this company was at "arms length" from the church, employees did not have to be temple recommend holders or even members of the LDS church. I applied and got the job. I worked my way through several positions at the company. In late 2014 I began working in the Construction Management division of the company where I had the role of Project Coordinator. Our role was to represent the landlord (the LDS Church) in construction projects throughout their Utah for-profit real estate portfolio. In case you're wondering what this portfolio includes, there are office and apartment buildings within about a 5-6 block radius of the Salt Lake Temple that are mostly owned by the church, as well as some properties in Ogden and Provo. So we would help tenants within those office buildings as they remodeled or constructed new suites. We would also manage construction projects for the buildings themselves, like replacing chillers, upgrading elevators, or remodeling common area spaces.)
You know that I worked on a construction project at the (name of building removed) last year (the building where the LDS prophet and several General Authorities live, including Elder Ballard and Elder Oaks). This was a very difficult project and much of the difficulty involved dealing with the politics of the General Authorities, Sister Oaks, and the homeowners in the building. I have never encountered such greed, entitlement and discriminatory behavior from a group of people as I had when working on this project. And it was all disguised behind supposed LDS authority, bright smiles, kind words to my face. But then they would send their complaints and demands up the political chain of command in the LDS Church. Having already been separated from any active attendance or affiliation with the LDS Church (other than my employment) for 14 years, my testimony in the Church was already slim. I believe this final experience seeing the very top leadership of the LDS Church was the breakdown. That's when the Spirit came knocking.
I knew for sure that there had to be something different and better out there. I thought about it for a couple of weeks before I told Ron that I wanted to try to go to church with him the next Sunday. He nearly fell out of his chair. Although he (and apparently many others at the church) had been praying for me for years, he wasn’t sure this day would ever come. I told him that I wasn’t making any promises that I would like it or want to return ever again (I had been once before and thought it was weird), but I wanted to try it again. This time with an open heart and an open mind.
What Ron didn’t tell me until many months after this, was that he had just prayed to the Lord a night or two before my declaration, that he needed something to happen in his life to turn things around. He was afraid he was slipping away from his faith. He asked the Lord to intervene and help renew his faith. I’d say that this was something that could help turn his life around!
So we started going to church together every week. It was different for me, having grown up in our very reverent LDS services. Here the worship music is loud with electric guitars and drums, but it is so powerful and the whole congregation sings along – loudly. For months I had to hold back my tears (sometimes I couldn't) as the Spirit moved through me during the worship service. I had never felt like that before.
(Something that I started to understand pretty quickly was that God wants us wherever we are and however we are. Then he will work on the rest with us. I didn't have to "clean myself up" to go to church or to get to know God. He accepted me right where I was. The more I read the Bible and learned about God through our Pastor's teachings, I started to understand that more and more fully).
The Pastor also made an impression on me. He stood up behind the pulpit in jeans and a button-up shirt and right there on his arm you can see his tattoos. He is just a regular guy, not ashamed of who or what he is, not ashamed of what he has done is his life. He never pretends to be something he is not. He is here to follow Jesus and to help us all to do the same. Nothing more. When you walk into the doors of our church it says on the wall “It’s All about Jesus”. Our Pastor teaches directly out of the Bible, verse by verse, line by line. Difficult topic or not, he is going to address it. If it is in the Bible, then the Lord put it there for a reason and we had better learn it. I really appreciated this method rather than just focusing on the easy or fun stuff to talk about. (It was also nice to learn from someone who was incredibly educated in the Bible. Mormon's have a lay ministry - in that Bishops, teachers, etc. don't go to Bible College, they are not specially trained for that position.) In fact just as we started attending he was starting the book of 1 Corinthians, and just this last Sunday we finished the book. Sixteen months to cover one book of the Bible – that is how in depth we get into the Word and I love it!
I started reading the Bible on my own and Ron and I started reading it together. I wanted so badly to know what was written in God’s Word. As I started reading the New Testament I was underlining passage after passage as they spoke to me so directly. I felt cheated in a way that in all the years growing up in the LDS faith, the Bible was never the focus, and even to an extent discredited (“we believe the Bible as far as it is translated correctly”). No, there was nothing stopping me from studying the Bible, but I had never seen it as important -I was taught that the Book of Mormon was the word of God.
In this journey I started around Thanksgiving 2015, one of the first things I came to realize was that my salvation is through faith in Jesus alone.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them”.
Grace is a GIFT of God. Jesus died on the cross for my sins. This has already been done. His grace is a free GIFT to me for believing in him. No works I could do, no ordinance I can partake in can earn that Salvation. But I am saved FOR good works. I have been saved by Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. And now I want to live my life in a way that honors that sacrifice. Am I perfect? Of course not. But I ask God to help me do a little better every day.
“I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!” (Gal 2:21)
Another thing I am learning on my journey is to trust the Word of God, which is the BIBLE.
“Heaven and earth shall pass away but my words shall not pass away”. (Matt 24:35)
I didn’t really understand why the LDS church refutes the correctness of the Bible until now, and that is because it contradicts so much of their doctrine. I am not going to get into all of that with you, I would only ask and pray that you really step back and investigate the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price for yourselves. There is scientific, archaeological and scholarly evidence that supports the Bible. Just take a step back, with an open mind and look to see what evidence would support the LDS scriptures.
“The time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths” (2 Tim 4:3-4)
I have found joy in reading the Bible. I try to do it daily. It speaks to me in a way I can’t really describe. Looking back I think it was a blessing that I had never read it before because I got to read it now as if a child, with open eyes and an open heart. I believe with my whole heart that if you would also read it the same way, you would find the truth in it as well. Do what I did, start with the New Testament - it’s an easier read!
Once I felt I had really established my Christian faith and faith in the Bible as the Word of God, I started to realize that my distinction between Christian faith and Mormon faith was not very clear. I had to reconcile that and do my research. Over the past several months I’ve spent a lot of time researching LDS doctrine. I was actually quite shocked at what I found. I guess being raised in the LDS Church from birth and then essentially leaving at 17/18, I never really got into the “meat” of the doctrine or the history of the early Church. Sometimes it made me sad to know that what I had been taught all my life was not true (like the pre-existence), and sometimes it made me angry and made me feel like I had been deceived. But I have 100% faith in the Bible as the one and only Word of God and that if it is not in the Bible then it is not the Word of God.
Reading and studying the Bible (without the intermingling of the Book of Mormon or other LDS scripture), gave me such clarity. I started to see and understand things that did not align with what I'd been taught growing up. I really wanted to know and understand more. I started researching and found and read several books that were so helpful. I really couldn't get enough of learning and researching at this point.
7 Reasons We Left Mormonism by Michael and Lynn Wilder
Unveiling Grace: The Story of How We Found Our Way Out of the Mormon Church: by Michael and Lynn Wilder
The Mormon Mirage by Latayne C. Scott
Leaving the Saints: by Martha Beck
Wife No. Nineteen: by Ann Eliza Young
An American Fraud: by Kay Burningham
Reading these books finally made me feel like I wasn't alone. Although Ron had gone through his own faith transition, I think there is something particularly difficult about leaving a religion like Mormonism. Living within Mormonism is a culture and a lifestyle unto itself; your whole life can be wrapped up in the religion and its doctrines. Especially if you, from birth, were raised to be Mormon, that is all you know. Pretty much my entire family - not just immediate family, but extended family, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. are Mormon. In Mormonism you are taught that to leave the faith (and really to even question it), is apostasy and you will be damned to hell. It is the one unforgivable sin - nothing can be worse. In order for Mormons to be considered worthy to go to the temple they are asked if they associate with any apostates. If they do, they are not deemed worthy to enter the temple. So really and truly leaving this religion behind is a huge decision, which can often carry huge consequences. I found tremendous comfort in the stories presented in these books because I felt that someone understood what I was going through.
“For I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book. (Rev 22:18-19)
“We also have the prophetic message as something completely reliable, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place”. (2 Pet 1:19)
Something that became so profoundly clear to me as I started my journey was how SIMPLE it is. It is all about a relationship with the Lord.
“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind’. This is the first and greatest commandment”. (Matt 22: 36-38).
When you have that relationship with the Lord, everything else starts to fall into place. It’s about following Jesus and Jesus alone. It’s not about following Joseph Smith or Brigham Young or President Monson or following what my Bishop says, it’s following Jesus and following HIS example. It doesn’t need to be so complicated with so many rules and regulations and ordinances. I’m not saying that following Jesus is easy, but it’s not about all the legalism.
I have developed a personal relationship with the Lord, which grows stronger every day. He is there for me always. I also believe he has always been there for me, seeking me out when I wandered away from him. He never forgot about me, he never wrote me off, he never gave up on me. I try to pray every day (again, I am not perfect, nor will I ever be), but I try to take time every day to talk to Him. I truly believe that He cares about me, and He cares about every aspect of my life. He cares about the smallest little things – like annoyances I have at work, to bigger things I need his help with. He wants me to bring all my cares to Him. He is never out of reach. He doesn’t need me to talk to him in flowery language or wait for a specific time to pray. I know that He is there whenever I need Him. He is everywhere at all times.
“To the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever” (1 Timothy 1:17).
I don’t write this letter to upset you, to condemn you or to preach to you. I have to be honest with you about my new life in Christ. I am sending similar letters to (Brother and Sister-in-Law) and to (Brother) so that they also know my feelings. I don’t claim to know everything about the Bible, about God or Christianity. I am still learning and will always be learning until the day that I die and run into the arms of the Lord. All I know is that I have never felt more joy, freedom, love and peace in my heart than I do now – and the weird thing is that that feeling gets stronger the closer I get to the Lord. It grows stronger every day.
I love you both more than you can know. I pray that our family stays strong together like we have always been. I pray that we can talk about these things together without upsetting one another. I pray that you both would really consider what I have asked of you, to read the Bible with open hearts and minds and see what it has to say.
I love you,
Well there it was - all out in the open now! So then what?
Once those letters were in the mail, I waited on pins and needles to see how they were received. I got a call from my older brother either the next day or within two days (as soon as he received the letter), and we had a great conversation. He was so supportive and understanding. I felt such a great sense of relief to hear from him. Then a day or so later I heard from my younger brother and he was also super supportive and understanding. I just needed to hear from my parents now. I was so anxious and nervous as the days went by. It was about a week and a half after I sent out the letters that my Mom sent me an email. I could tell that what I was doing was very hard for her, but her biggest concern was that we stay a close family. She did not want to change or sever our relationship at all. I was SO relieved. That is all that I wanted at that time, was to ensure that my family relationships stayed intact. There are so many stories of people leaving the faith of their parents, and they never speak to each other again. I felt that I was so blessed to have a family that was so supportive of me. It isn't that they agreed with me, but they supported me as their daughter because they LOVED me.
At this time I was still working for the LDS Church's for-profit real estate division. Although, technically, I did not have to be a member of the church to work in my position, I did not feel that I could officially leave the church while I was working here. I always felt that whole issue of associating with apostates would rear its ugly head and I would be fired. I read through the employee policy handbook several times looking for anything that eluded to this, and although I didn't see anything specific, there was enough vagueness in the wording that I didn't want to take my chances. I had already been looking for a new job for a while, but I doubled down my efforts. I wanted to resign from the church, but I felt that I needed to be out of this employment position first. I'd like to say that I had enough faith to just send in my resignation and deal with a job loss if that came, but I didn't. So I stuck it out. It was so difficult to work in a place that was all about "building up the kingdom" for the LDS church, when I didn't believe in it. And not only did I not believe in it, I felt that there were destructive and harmful things about it. If you have worked for the LDS Church, or know someone who does, you may have heard them say that you need a "second testimony" in order to work for the church. This comes as a result of really seeing the inner workings, politics, flaws, etc of this corporation but still having to believe wholeheartedly in it. More and more I understood this concept. I was so much more aware of the things about the inner business dealings and doctrines that didn't sit right with me. These things shouldn't be happening in a church of God.
Finally in early 2018 I was offered another job. I was ecstatic - not only because I wanted to stop working for the church, but I was ready for a change overall. I had been with that company for 13 years; I was overdue for a change. I had had my letter of resignation (from the Church membership) written for almost a year. I think I sent it out the day that I got that new job offer. I felt so strongly that I didn't want to be counted on the rolls of a church I no longer believed in. Anyone that has tried to remove their name from the LDS church's rolls may understand that this is not always an easy process. I was sent a letter back from the church about a month later stating that there was some kind of error and they needed my address, so they couldn't process my request. That was quite strange, as they sent their letter to our address; the one they "didn't have." I sent another letter, and then received another letter from them (again about a month later) declining my request for some reason or another. Finally I heard about quitmormon.com; a website, run by a lawyer where all they do is process resignation requests for people trying to leave the Mormon church. I signed up, sent my information and within two weeks, I got the confirmation letter from the church that my name had been removed. I literally jumped up and down with happiness. I felt that I could really put that all behind me.
What I came to find out, however, was that it would take a long time to unravel all the doctrines I'd been taught all my life. I would think of something and then have to analyze, is that something from the Mormon scriptures, or is this in the Bible? Was this something I was taught in the Mormon church, or something I've come to understand on my own. As I went through this process I found myself very angry. I felt that I had been deceived and lied too and taught things that were not true. Let me put this out there, I believe that the BIBLE is God's word. I believe that the BIBLE is true and that teachings should come from the Bible. As I continued through my faith journey and learned that things I had "known" all my life were not biblical. I really had to learn to pick apart beliefs I had always had and understand where they came from and if I actually believed them anymore. For me, this has been a long process and honestly I still have things come up that I have to stop and say "wait a minute". For example, I was at my sister-in-law's house several months ago, her birthday is on April 6th. We were talking about her birthday and I said, well yeah, it's Jesus' birthday too. I had always been taught that Jesus' actual birthday was on April 6th. It was my sister-in-law who said to me "is that something that just the Mormon church teaches?". It hadn't dawned on me until that moment that something as simple as that may not be true. There is nothing in the Bible that says that Jesus was born on April 6th - this is a teaching/tradition from the Mormon faith. Some realizations were easier to take than others.
I started a new job in early 2018, and I quickly made friends with several of my co-workers. One co-worker in particular, we'll call him Seth, was going through his own faith transition. We could talk for hours about our faith and issues with the Mormon church. I felt that I had finally found someone, in person, that understood what I was going through. Seth introduced me to a couple of podcasts - Mormon Stories and Mormon Discussions where I heard stories from others who had left the faith, or were grappling with doubts. These resources were so important to me to feeling that I wasn't alone. It was also very upsetting to hear stories of people who had doubts or left the faith and were cut off from friends and family. Or people who were ex-communicated from the church for standing up for things they believed in.
One of my favorite songs in the world is No Longer Slaves by Bethel Music. I won't rip off too many of their lyrics, but here is a little excerpt from that song. I hope you listen to the whole thing and it moves you as much as it moves me.
You split the sea So I could walk right through it My fears were drowned in perfect love You rescued me And I will stand and sing I am the child of God
I’m no longer a slave to fear I am a child of God
I realized more and more how BLESSED I am to have a family that has stuck by me. Even though we may disagree, we are still FAMILY - and that is the truest form of a family in my opinion. My friends have also stuck by me. My very best friend in the world is a die-hard Mormon. As she says - she is all in. But never did this come between us. In fact we have had many great talks about our faith, our differences, and our experiences. I am also incredibly blessed to have Ron as my husband. Ron was so patient with me, and he prayed about me. Even when things between us were so difficult, we didn't give up on each other. I said it earlier, but I truly believe that God put us together for a reason and has wonderful plans for our lives.