This is another in a series of posts chronicling my decision to formally resign my membership in the LDS Church and my confrontation with Church history and doctrine that followed my resignation.
I had submitted my letter of resignation. I had formally left the LDS Church, but I knew when I resigned that the Church, or rather a lingering - albeit tattered - belief in the Church, had not left me. As I've written in the previous posts in this series, when I resigned, I still didn't know what I believed about Joseph Smith, about the history of the Church, about the Book of Mormon, about temples, about a number of things.
Leaving Was Not Enough
I was an adult convert to the Church. I had invested 28 years of my life in believing the Mormon Church was what it claimed to be. I found that it was one thing to leave a church that I felt had turned its back on me and in which I could no longer fit; but it was quite another to stop believing in things I had ardently believed, that I had taught my children, of which I had born testimony, that had seemed so rational and so believable for so long. Relinquishing long-held beliefs was far more difficult than mailing a letter to Church headquarters.
For a while after resigning, I thought that I could just leave these beliefs behind. But merely relinquishing them somehow felt like I imagined excommunication would feel like ... in that I hadn't "acted" of my own volition, but had merely "reacted."
Relinquishment wasn't enough. I had to go back and face the beliefs and, if necessary and appropriate, renounce them, thereby paving the way (as it turned out) for healing from what the beliefs had done to me. I say "if necessary and appropriate" because I did not start out with an "agenda." I merely opened my mind, and the result followed of its own accord.
Opening My Mind
In the 28 years that I had been an active member of the LDS Church, I had never allowed myself to read anything that was even remotely "anti-Mormon." Over the years, I had read widely about the history of the Church, about Joseph Smith and about the doctrines of the Church, but all from sources that were sympathetic to the belief that the Church and Joseph Smith were what and whom they purported to be.
I knew a lot about the history of the Church. I'm not trying to be boastful, but merely state a fact. I had read virtually every "friendly" biography of Joseph Smith, including Bushman's Rough Stone Rolling. I had read biographies of almost all of the presidents of the Church as well as many other books about the history of the Church. I had believed the Brethren when they had said that "detractors" from Joseph Smith and "apostates" had been led away to write and speak untruths about Smith and the Church, both during his lifetime and later.
After all, if Joseph Smith really was what he proclaimed himself to be, and what many believed him to be, then it makes a certain amount of sense that many would seek to destroy the Prophet's reputation and cast doubt on his prophetic calling. The same could be said of Brigham Young, Smith's successor as president of the Church. The history of the Church as presented by those friendly to it made sense - in a sort of a way - and I would not entertain any notions that this history was not what it purported to be.
Starting to Read
The first book I picked up after I resigned of which I read parts was Under the Banner of Heaven. Mark had recommended it to me, but I quickly lost interest in the modern-day polygamists described in the book. What I found interesting was its depiction of the history of polygamy in the Mormon world. On 22 November 2011, I made the following entry in my journal:
“I am now reading Under the Banner of Heaven, which is basically about polygamous sects but also goes into the history of the Mormon Church. I thought I knew just about all there was to know about church history, but I read some things yesterday I had never heard of. Needless to say, they challenged my understanding and knowledge of church history. I’m only scratching the surface, I’m sure. I have quite a journey ahead of me.
“As I was thinking about this yesterday, I realized that I would never have ‘gone there’ in the past – even though I considered myself a ‘liberal Mormon,’ [at least intellectually] because it would have been too challenging. I couldn’t afford to shake my testimony – it was the one thing I clung to in order to bring sanity to my life of denial, conflict and shame. Paradoxically, it was also the one thing that tied me to my life of denial, conflict and shame.”
No Man Knows His History
Later in November, I started reading Fawn Brodie's landmark biography of Joseph Smith, No Man Knows My History. I well remember going into Barnes and Noble and almost feeling like I was purchasing pornography – it was so taboo. Or at least in my mind at that ime.
I had heard of her book, of course; but I had also read Hugh Nibley's rebuttal as well as other negative commentary written by defenders of the Church. It was the typical sort of stuff: slinging mud at the author, but leaving her basic message unchallenged. Brodie, however, was no "anti-Mormon." At the time she initially wrote History, she was a young historian (in the 1940's), but she would later achieve fame and recognition for her landmark biography of Thomas Jefferson.
What I read in Brodie's book infuriated me. I don't know now many times I said to Mark (who is not, nor ever has been, Mormon), "I was so gullible!" Brodie told the other side of the story that had been constantly denigrated by the Church and its various apologists. But she also told the story that was never in the official or friendly accounts because it was too damning. I felt like I had been duped. Mislead. Lied to. And I didn't like it.