Response to “What’s Wrong with the LDS Church” – Why Those Who Believe(d) Speak Out

In her post “What’s Wrong with the LDS Church” Fat N’ Fitness blogger Kyli Summerhays has some things to say about misconceptions surrounding The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

While I believe the post is well-intentioned and well thought out, it had its own misconceptions about why people leave or speak out against the church. I would like to break down her thoughts here and hopefully provide some clarity and feedback for those both within and outside of the LDS Church.

“You know what I think the biggest issue with the LDS Church is?? It’s true.”

I firmly believe the LDS Church uplifts lives and can be a good moral bearing. The church does many good things all over the world, from humanitarian aid to refugee placement to advocating for immigration reform.

Whether it is objectively true, in a scientific sense of the word, is admittedly, a more difficult argument to make – but I strongly believe if it moves someone spiritually and makes them a better person they should hold to the iron rod for all it’s worth.

“When in the history of mankind has something that’s right been free from persecution? Never.”

If persecution is the metric for truth or righteousness, then the LGBT community has claim to a lot more of it than the LDS Church. Or Jewish people. Or black people. While it’s true the LDS Church has had some terrible patches of persecution – especially in its early history (being driven from homes multiple times) – both historically and in modern times, other groups have had it far worse.

Additionally, other groups have also faced persecution – from religions such as Satanism to organizations like the KKK. Are we to believe that because of their persecution they are also right and true? Many things, both good and bad, face persecution. It’s not a reliable metric for finding truth and righteousness.

“We are supposed to have moments of misery, of pain and suffering, or severe temptation. We are supposed to feel lost and confused and question the things we are being taught. We are supposed to be hard on ourselves and get jealous or defensive. That IS the perfection of this gospel.”

I can agree with most of this to one degree or another. The real problem for many, especially those who leave or speak out against the church, is that it’s not merely a matter of “moments.” And it’s not merely a matter of being lost or confused. And it’s not just a matter of being hard on yourself.

The problem is that the pain and suffering is constant – and even more pronounced at church. The problem is not that they’re lost or confused, it’s that the church instills confusion or makes them feel misled.

The problem is not that they are hard on themselves, it’s that the church has cemented in their heads expectations of what people are supposed to be – from gender roles to beauty standards to church callings – and when people don’t live up to them they face social pressure from within the church and deep, internal shame for simply being who they are instead of who they are expected to be.

“We are NOT meant to always be happy. We are not meant to always make the best choices or feel 100% great about ourselves. Guess what guys, that’s not the LDS church creating those feelings…That’s a natural consequence of life. The LDS church is just an easy place to put the blame because there are standards and they ask you to live life in a certain way. This isn’t to be controlling or to be mean. It’s for your benefit.”

What happens when the place that is supposed to be your spiritual refuge, the sole place you should be able to find peace, becomes the very place you fear most because it fills you with anxiety, depression and dread? What happens when you start wearing two faces every day out of fear and shame: The mask of conformity you wear around church members and the person you really are?

These are the situations people deal with, and their desire to find spiritual peace is what ultimately leads them to leave the church or speak up. Simply put, for these people, church is not making them a better person, it’s making them worse – and their anguish takes them to dark places.

While I do not believe that it is the church’s intention, or the intention of any member, to be “controlling or mean,” the feelings of anxiety, depression, shame, and suffering ex-Mormons and members alike experience are, without a doubt, caused by the LDS Church.

The evidence for that is clear as day: Those who have suffered within the church have spoken up about it. Some have even described their suffering as spiritual abuse – on par with verbal, emotional, and even physical abuse. Because of this, those who have suffered often speak out against what they perceive to be harmful practices and beliefs – just as someone who suffered abuse at the hands of another would do to protect others.

We do not get to decide whether they have misattributed the source of their suffering or how deep and significant their suffering is. The only thing we get to decide is whether we will listen to them, accept them as they are, and help them heal – or continue waving away their pain as “a natural consequence of life.”

“So here it goes. My testimony of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is that it’s true.”

It’s a beautiful testimony and I appreciate Kyli sharing it. I have no idea if she will ever read this post, but I wish her the best and hope that she is able to take something good away from it like I took away from hers.

I hope ex-Mormons will look at Kyli’s post and understand that there is no malice behind church leaders or members – they’re all just trying to do what they believe is good and right (isn’t everyone?).

I hope active Mormons who see my post will better understand where ex-Mormons are coming from, why they leave, and why there is sometimes lingering anger and resentment that can take years to heal.

I hope those in the middle are able to find a place they belong.

I hope we are all able to find peace, wherever it comes from.

Counterfeit Lifestyles: The real threat to family isn’t coming from the LGBT community

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In the Spring 2015 session of LDS General Conference, church leaders railed against “counterfeit and alternative lifestyles,” upholding marriage between a man and a woman as the one good recipe for raising a family.

This has led to backlash from individuals both inside and outside of the LGBT community and organizations like the Human Rights Campaign, who said that the comments were “disheartening and wrong, and remind us yet again that the journey to full inclusion for LGBT people — including our families and children — is not done.”

A Counterfeit Lifestyle?

But what exactly is a “counterfeit” family lifestyle? Counterfeit money is made to look like money and pass for legitimate cash. Yet it has no value and its introduction into the market can actually damage the monetary value of real money. So similarly, a counterfeit family lifestyle would be one that does more damage than good when weighed against the common parameters that designate a healthy family.

If that is the case though, then LGBT parenting fails to fit into the counterfeit category. Studies consistently show that LGBT parents raise their children just as well as straight parents. Even columns and studies that supposedly show the adverse effects of gay marriage or parenting can actually be seen as reasons why they are needed.

A real case of Fraud

So, if LGBT families aren’t counterfeit, what is? It may come as a shock to some conservative and religious people, but mixed-orientation marriages — and especially those who attempt to market them as a workable family unit — may be where the real cases of fraud lie.

Take, for instance, the TV show My Husband’s Not Gay. The show features mixed-orientation marriages that appear to be working. The husbands are supposedly attracted to men, yet making it work with straight women in an LDS marriage. Those in conservative and religious communities have been pointing to the show as proof that gay people can do fine in straight marriages.

However, the key thing missing from the show and much of the surrounding conversation is the fact that sexual orientation and sexuality are two different spectrums with very broad ranges and that these families featured are outliers — not the norm.

By the facts

In fact, the evidence suggests that mixed-orientation marriages are very likely to fail. Regardless of the study, the consensus is always this: Far more mixed-orientation marriages end in divorce and broken families than succeed.

Conversely, in addition to the fact that studies by and large continue to find no discernible difference between children raised by gay parents or straight parents, there appears to be no discernible difference in divorce rates either.

So while LDS leaders may call gay families “counterfeit” it doesn’t hold a lot of weight when looking at the numbers. And while the church hasn’t endorsed mixed-orientation marriages, they also haven’t discouraged them either. If the church truly wants to promote stable families and healthy upbringings for children they might do well to advocate for same-sex marriage and speak up on the possible danger mixed-orientation marriages can carry.

Elder Ronald Poelman: LDS Church is a guide to enlightenment, not the end goal

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With the LDS Church’s General Conference this weekend, I wanted to take a minute to discuss one of the most illuminating General Conference talks I have ever had the pleasure of hearing. Spoken by Elder Ronald E. Poelman of the First Quorum of the Seventy, it covers the difference between the Gospel and the LDS Church, how tradition and cultural norms can be misconstrued as gospel principles, and the extreme importance of free agency and questioning. Even though it is from 1984, it resonates even more today.

Both the gospel of Jesus Christ and the Church of Jesus Christ are true and divine. However, there is a distinction between them which is significant … Failure to distinguish between the two …. may lead to confusion and misplaced priorities with unrealistic and therefore failed expectations. This in turn may result in diminished benefits and blessings and, in extreme instances, even disaffections.

The Gospel and the LDS Church are two distinct things with two distinct purposes. Elder Poelman states that while the Gospel is an unchanging guide binding us to God, the Church is a delivery system meant to distribute the Gospel. However, misplaced priorities and understanding about the two can lead to devastating consequences: diminished blessings and even disaffection. What kind of misunderstandings? Well…

Traditions, customs and practices may even be regarded by some as eternal gospel principles. … Those who do not conform to these cultural standards may mistakenly be regarded as unorthodox or even unworthy. … It is important, therefore, to know the difference between eternal gospel principles which are unchanging, universally applicable and cultural norms which may vary with time and circumstance.

Cultural norms are not Gospel and the traditional way the Church has functioned does not necessarily mean that is the way it is meant to function in perpetuity. Indeed, it is not enough to simply obey church rules. They must be questioned.

Every church member has … the need and obligation to obtain (a personal witness regarding gospel principles and Church practices) by exercising his free agency … Without such assurance, one may feel confused and perhaps even burdened by what may appear to be simply institutional requirements of the Church. Indeed, it is not enough that we obey the commandments and counsel of Church leaders.

An unhealthy focus on institutional requirements or cultural norms, especially without questioning and receiving a witness that such things are necessary, can become a burden for those in the church — as well as the church itself. Those who do pray and receive a witness that things should be done differently are also an integral part of the church.

When we understand the difference between the gospel and the Church and the appropriate function of each in our daily lives, we are much more likely to do the right things for the right reasons. Institutional discipline is replaced by self discipline. Supervision is replaced by righteous initiative and a sense of divine accountability.

As we question the Church and receive Gospel wisdom from Church leaders, institutional discipline is replaced by self discipline. The need to be supervised by the Church also wanes as our own sense of accountability to God and our fellow brethren here on Earth grows. Indeed:

As individually and collectively we increase our knowledge, acceptance, and application of gospel principles, we become less dependent on Church programs. Our lives become gospel centered.


See part 1 of Elder Poelman’s talk here and part 2 here.

“The law cannot make moral what God has declared immoral”: Mormon revelation past, present, and future

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LDS Church apostle Dallin H. Oaks recently said that human laws “cannot make moral what God has declared immoral.” It’s a sentiment that has been increasingly clashing with the heartfelt longing for marriage equality among a growing number of Mormon faithful.

But there are a number of things to think about concerning Oaks’ message and the way the LDS Church functions. The church has an interesting concept of revelation. Not only do they believe that church leaders receive continual revelation from God, but they also believe members can receive their own revelation from God.

One of the most prominent early Mormon leaders, Brigham Young, once stated “the greatest fear I have is that the people of this Church will accept what we say as the will of the Lord without first praying about it and getting the witness within their own hearts that what we say is the word of the Lord.”

So what happens when members earnestly pray about the words Oaks has said, and the current LDS teachings against gay marriage, and don’t receive such a witness?

Well, there are some things to keep in mind.

LDS apostle Dieter F. Uchtdorf stated during the church’s October 2013 General Conference that church leaders have made mistakes and will continue to make mistakes. Sometimes BIG ones.

As if to hit Uchtdorf’s point home, the Church also released an essay acknowledging that past church leaders were not divinely inspired on racial issues, but were simply influenced by the cultural norms of their time — noting that the church today disavows any racist remarks they made or actions they took.

Indeed, Brigham Young said of interracial relationships that “if the white man who belongs to the chosen seed mixes his blood with the seed of Cain, the penalty, under the law of God, is death on the spot. This will always be so.”

Yet, look how far the Church has come on interracial relationships.

So, Mormon faithful, when Dallin H. Oaks says that “the law cannot make moral what God has declared immoral,” consider what church leaders have said about themselves, the Church’s past mistakes, and what church-revelation-yet-to-come may still reveal.

And if you’re feeling torn between your faith and your heart: Go with your heart — chances are it’s the still small voice telling you how to make the LDS Church more Christlike.

Religious Rumble: Mormon President Thomas S. Monson vs. Tom Phillips

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I’ve seen the news breaking out everywhere: Thomas S. Monson, the head of the LDS Church, has been summoned to court in Britain over fraud allegations.

While the summons have been available for viewing here and here, there’s been little on why the judge would actually sign off on it. Legal experts have scoffed at the idea, along with plenty of Mormons and non-Mormons alike.

Now, however, Tom Phillips (the man behind the private prosecution attempt that resulted in the summons) has opened up on just what it took to bring the case to court and get the summons issued. To sum up: It’s been a long time coming.

Who is Tom Phillips?

Tom Phillips has an impressive and long history with the LDS Church spanning over 33 years. In addition to being personally acquainted with many church leaders, he has served as a bishop, stake president, and area executive secretary. On top of that, he was the area controller for the British Isles and Africa, and the financial director for the church’s UK corporate entities. That last position is especially interesting considering he is presenting a fraud case against the LDS Church, because it means he has intimate knowledge of the inner workings of church finances.

According to Phillips, he has also received the second anointing, a very rare and obscure church ordinance.

The judicial process

The judge who signed off on a summons severely scrutinized the case from all angles for four months (the process usually takes a few days) — attacking the case from every conceivable angle Monson’s legal team would be expected to attack the case on — before being convinced of the case’s merit and approving the summons. The judge did make some modifications though. Phillips originally wanted to list all UK church members and the UK Treasury as victims in the summons, which the judge refused to do — leading Phillips to name just two.

Phillips also states that he is not attacking the church’s core tenets or personally attacking Monson; but he believes the LDS Church misrepresents or glosses over certain facts about the church in order to more easily gain new members, and keep current ones, while collecting tithes from them. The representations the church makes, he claims, are demonstrably false.

If the church were upfront about these facts, he says, there would be no case. Likewise, if there were no way to demonstrably prove the validity or falsity of the teachings in question, there would also be no case.

Phillips has also convinced two leading British law firms to back him in his legal fight. Although, he says, it took several hours to convince the firms he had a strong case, in the end they agreed that “there was a strong case to be made against the Mormon Church for committing crimes of financial fraud.”

One of these firms has also indicated that they can keep the case from being dropped by the court — which, in itself, is actually pretty difficult for a UK court to do.

You can read the full document here.

Extra thoughts

It sounds like this might be a stronger case than previously thought — with a smaller chance of it being thrown out in court. It appears we haven’t heard the last of this.

However, regardless of how the case ends up, I think it will be bad not only for the church, but for ex-Mormons and non-Mormons.

If the case is dropped: Church history has already been put in the spotlight, and could lead less people to convert — and perhaps even cause some to fall away.

If President Monson ignores the court’s calls to appear: it will look very bad to potential converts and non-Mormons — and even to some current members.

If President Monson goes and loses: It’ll be as bad, if not a lot worse, than if he had ignored the court’s summons.

If President Monson goes and wins: It’ll be vindication for Mormons and may alleviate some of the concern potential converts could have — but many will still probably be wary and dig deeper into church history before thinking about baptism.

But regardless of whether the case is dropped or President Monson goes, wins, or loses, Mormons have already felt the sting of new persecution, fears of religious restriction have been stoked, and ex/non-Mormons — whether they agree with the case or not — will be grouped together and looked at with scorn, leading them to react in kind.

I’ve already seen the rumblings of this happening online, and I imagine it will only intensify if this picks up or drags on.

Another, larger, wedge between people is, to me, the last thing this world needs. So that’s a shame.

What the Doctrine and Covenants says about gay marriage, the judicial system, and the role of religion in government

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There has been a lot of discussion online and offline about gay marriage. People on both sides of the divide have been hurling scripture and quotes from prophets back and forth. One of the most intriguing to me was the mention of Doctrine and Covenants (D&C) 134: 9. The verse seems to state religion and government shouldn’t be mixed. I decided to read through the section to make sure it hadn’t been taken out of context, and what I found was even more interesting to me than just that one verse.

Of great importance is the use of “conscience” as opposed to “religion” throughout the section.

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On the role of government (it’s important to note that numerous states and countries have already legalized gay marriage and their societies are still “good and safe”)

1 We believe that governments were instituted of God for the benefit of man; and that he holds men accountable for their acts in relation to them, both in making laws and administering them, for the good and safety of society.

On how peace can be maintained in America

2 We believe that no government can exist in peace, except such laws are framed and held inviolate as will secure to each individual the free exercise of CONSCIENCE, the right and control of property, and the protection of life.

On the importance of judges (before you jump on “voice of the people”, see verse 11)

We believe that all governments necessarily require civil officers and magistrates to enforce the laws of the same; and that such as will administer the law in equity and justice should be sought for and upheld by the voice of the people if a republic, or the will of the sovereign.

On religious followers being allowed the free exercise of religion “unless their religious opinions prompt them to infringe on the rights and liberties of others”

4 We believe that religion is instituted of God; and that men are amenable to him, and to him only, for the exercise of it, unless their religious opinions prompt them to infringe upon the rights and liberties of others; but we do not believe that human law has a right to interfere in prescribing rules of worship to bind the CONSCIENCES of men, nor dictate forms for public or private devotion; that the civil magistrate should restrain crime, but never control CONSCIENCE; should punish guilt, but never suppress the freedom of the soul.

On laws and the executive branch of government

We believe that all men are bound to sustain and uphold the respective governments in which they reside, while protected in their inherent and inalienable rights by the laws of such governments; and that sedition and rebellion are unbecoming every citizen thus protected, and should be punished accordingly; and that all governments have a right to enact such laws as in their own judgments are best calculated to secure the public interest; at the same time, however, holding sacred the freedom of CONSCIENCE.

On honoring judges, and keeping religion and government separate

We believe that every man should be honored in his station, rulers and magistrates as such, being placed for the protection of the innocent and the punishment of the guilty; and that to the laws all men owe respect and deference, as without them peace and harmony would be supplanted by anarchy and terror; human laws being instituted for the express purpose of regulating our interests as individuals and nations, between man and man; and divine laws given of heaven, prescribing rules on spiritual concerns, for faith and worship, both to be answered by man to his Maker.

On governments being “bound to enact laws for the protection of all citizens in the free exercise of their religious belief”

7 We believe that rulers, states, and governments have a right, and are bound to enact laws for the protection of all citizens in the free exercise of their religious belief; but we do not believe that they have a right in justice to deprive citizens of this privilege, or proscribe them in their opinions, so long as a regard and reverence are shown to the laws and such religious opinions do not justify sedition nor conspiracy.

(8 is on punishment of typical crimes — not relevant here)

On keeping religion and government separate

We do not believe it just to mingle religious influence with civil government, whereby one religious society is fostered and another proscribed in its spiritual privileges, and the individual rights of its members, as citizens, denied.

On the limited power religious authorities should have

10 We believe that all religious societies have a right to deal with their members for disorderly conduct, according to the rules and regulations of such societies; provided that such dealings be for fellowship and good standing; but we do not believe that any religious society has authority to try men on the right of property or life, to take from them this world’s goods, or to put them in jeopardy of either life or limb, or to inflict any physical punishment upon them. They can only excommunicate them from their society, and withdraw from them their fellowship.

On the importance of the judicial system (note the use of “character infringed”)

11 We believe that men should appeal to the civil law for redress of all wrongs and grievances, where personal abuse is inflicted or the right of property or character infringed, where such laws exist as will protect the same; but we believe that all men are justified in defending themselves, their friends, and property, and the government, from the unlawful assaults and encroachments of all persons in times of exigency, where immediate appeal cannot be made to the laws, and relief afforded.

(12 is on preaching to and baptizing servants — not relevant here)

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It appears, to me, that this bit of Mormon doctrine is a great guideline for a secular government — and I greatly admire the tenets espoused throughout the section — the need for a judicial system to redress grievances, the need to keep religion and government separate, but most importantly: The need to let everyone live according to the dictates of their conscience, so that you can be free to do the same.