Expulsion from Mormonism: a journey of loyal dissent Part 2

Here is an update from Chris Ralph who is a friend of mine currently in the process of leaving the Mormon Church, you can see his first post here.

On 25th April 2012, I duly met with my Stake President and Bishop, at their request. My daughter Sophia also invited herself along to support me, as she had been the means by which knowledge of my Public Apology to Blacks had been made known to members of the local LDS community. We had previously ascertained that concern over my apology was the reason for holding the meeting. Sophia felt strongly about it and wanted to claim her share of culpability.

The four of us spent just over two hours together. It was a pleasant meeting, and there was no sense of personal antagonism. I have known the Stake President for over 30 years, during which time we have served together in several stake leadership positions. He has a daughter who is a fortnight younger than our oldest son, and we reminisced briefly about how their carry-cots had once been positioned side by side in a rented meeting house, where he had served as Branch President, and we were visiting.

The Bishop is a full-time employee of the church, who moved, with his family, into our ward a few years ago. He has served as bishop for about four years, during most of which time I have not attended. We get along fine, though he describes Sophia and me as “intellectuals”, and he says he cannot understand the gospel on that level. Sophia served in the Ward YW presidency when she last attended regularly, and taught two of his daughters. So the first 15 or 20 minutes passed in catching up with the news of three families.

The meeting then got underway in earnest. SP observed that I had given outstanding service to the church over the years, and suggested that something had changed in me. I agreed that I had given much, and that my understanding of things had begun to change a few years ago. I then asked which is the greater principle, loyalty or honesty? We all agreed that honesty is the greater if there is conflict between the two. We then reflected on the visit from Bishop three and half years ago when he had suggested to me I was on a precipice and about to slip into apostasy.

I recalled his advice to me at that time to become “a wise old owl”, and to attend church but keep my views to myself. I said that was a turning point for me, for I knew that I could not do so. Bishop had warned me that by sharing with others what I had learned I would be guilty of apostasy. I said I could not attend without engaging in the subject matter. SP nodded and appeared to understand that. SP said that some members had been upset recently that the difficult doctrine of “the negro and the priesthood”, (as it used to be referred to), had been given publicity by me.

I suspect those members were actually more upset at the derision they received from other participants in response to critical comments they made about The Apology, advocating only blind obedience to the church leaders. I recounted the story of my Zimbabwean friends Chengetai and Nyorovai, when I was a relatively new member in 1972.  The missionary elders had refused to teach them because they were black Africans, and as such could never have the gospel blessings I might enjoy as a white man. I said that although the policy had changed in 1978, the inescapable impact upon my mind, as a young man of 19, was that of racial superiority, (for that was the teaching of the time), and it took another 20 years for me to eradicate that false idea.

I then asked how Brigham Young and more recent church leaders could all be prophets of the same God, for BY on one occasion had stated that the penalty for a white man marrying a black woman would be death on the spot, and that this would ALWAYS BE SO, but today the marriage of mixed races is performed in LDS temples. Was BY a false prophet, or are the brethren of today apostates for having negated his prophecy? Bishop suggested that there were precedents for change and continuing revelation, with the gospel having been confined to the Israelites at one time and circumcision having been a pre-requisite to it. I asked if any OT prophet had ever said that this would always be so. He said that not as far as he was aware, but there might have been such a prophet whose words are not recorded. I observed that in that case it amounted to a non-argument, and just an unsupported supposition.

The SP then brought up the topic of polygamy to illustrate how the Lord can change his mind. That took us in another direction altogether of course, and nothing more was afterwards said about my Public Apology, which had been the original reason for the meeting. The subject of polygamy having been raised in this way, I asked whether they understood where the doctrine of plural marriage had come from. Bishop said he believed it had arisen because of the need for the widows to be protected when crossing the plains, and said there had always been more women in the church than men. I told him that I had used that argument myself in my time, in order to defend the practice, but the evidence points in a different direction for the 19th century Utah census returns indicate that there were always more males than females.

SP acknowledged that he understood that polygamy had actually started with Joseph Smith. I told him that that is a soundly established historical fact, and that some LDS apologists even argue that the first instance of a polygamous marriage was between JS and Fanny Alger as early as 1831, although Emma Smith and Oliver Cowdery both regarded it at the time as an act of adultery. I asked SP what his response would be if I came to him and told him that an angel had appeared to me with a drawn sword and had threatened my life if I didn’t command him to give me his wife or his daughter in marriage. I asked if he would accept I was inspired of God. He indicated that each case would have to be treated on its merits. I suggested that actually the answer would be no, but that this very argument was used repeatedly by Joseph Smith in order to establish relationships with the wives of his supposed friends, and some younger women, as young as 14.

Bishop said that at that period of history some things which may now sound unacceptable to us, might have been more acceptable. I asked if he really thought that secretly marrying other men’s wives and children, while concealing it from his own wife would really have been acceptable in 19th century society. He admitted he didn’t. I asked SP if I came to him and announced that I had multiple wives, would he not be sufficiently concerned to take disciplinary action against me? He said again that he would need to treat it on an individual basis. (This surprised me as I thought polygamy was a mandatory excommunicable offence).

I said that two years before I stopped attending church I had reached the conclusion that if Joseph Smith had ever been a prophet, then he was a fallen one at best. SP nodded and said that he felt that JS had got some things wrong. I asked him whether he felt those were big things or small things. Is it a big thing for example to take another man’s wife from him? He didn’t answer. Bishop suggested we don’t have sources for these stories. I mentioned the letter JS wrote to one of his “wives” stating that she should only come to see him when Emma was not at home. I mentioned Oliver Cowdery’s and David Whitmer’s conclusion that JS had in some way fallen from grace.

I mentioned William Law and his wife, who were approached by JS with a proposal that they could wife swap with him and Emma. I said there was plentiful evidence, but it is covered up from rank and file church attending members. SP said I had done more research than he had done. I agreed. Sophia then explained about the Book of Abraham, and produced some children’s books on the subject of Egyptology, pointing out canopic jars, which neither had heard of before. She showed them Facsimile 1 from the BoA, and the damaged papyrus from which it was copied, or imagined, and the common Egyptian motif of Anubis embalming Osiris, which she said she had frequently encountered when she visited Egypt.

I mentioned that these things are now taught to 9 year olds in school. I said that The Book of Abraham has been part of LDS canon since the 1880s, and most damningly the name Abraham is not even mentioned once in the entire text, when it is properly translated. Rather, it is a funeral text which relates to an Egyptian pagan priest named Hor who lived about 1800 years after Abraham. I also added that the church has known about this since the late 1960s, but has never informed its tithe-paying members of the shocking truth concerning the matter. If the name Abraham had appeared even once in the text would the church not have trumpeted that fact from the rooftops instead of remaining silent? I expressed the opinion that this complete discrediting spelt the death knell of the church as a serious world religion.

There were some theological discussions then about the nature of salvation. I proposed that authentic Christian belief is in salvation BEFORE all we can do, and a changing of the heart which then brings forth good works, rather than an arduous ladder-climbing process of works at the end of which we inevitably fall short, and salvation is then extended as an act of grace and mercy if we have ticked enough boxes. I shared my own born again experiences when I was 18, and rendered my interpretation of them, likening myself to a duckling which had hatched and had seen a cat, then followed it as if the cat had been its mother. Having experienced a conversion to Christ at the commencement of my time as an “investigator”, it was likewise so easy to accept all else the missionaries afterwards taught me.

The SP then acknowledged he could see that I believe in God, and Christ, and he asked me therefore if I believe also in Joseph Smith, continuing revelation through living prophets of the church, and the Book of Mormon. I answered to each that I didn’t, and I couldn’t. I also told him nicely that I didn’t recognise his authority over me, and he acknowledged that he understood. He asked me if I believe that Christ stands at the head of his church. I said I did, but not in the sense that he meant it. I explained that I don’t accept the LDS church as the one true church, but believe Christ leads many people in many ways, including through this and other churches, and they, the believers are the church of Christ.

There was considerable concern that I would want to remain a member of the church despite holding these opinions. I explained that it has much to do with my identity with the LDS people. I alluded to my research, and said that I feel a kinship with the early British converts to Mormonism, although I see that they were in many cases misused by the system. I said I had also been baptised an Anglican when I was an infant, but I have never sought to sever that tie formally.

Church service had represented a large slice of my life, and many hours given to the church which I now wish I could have back to spend with my children, and with one in particular, (my son Emmanuel who died in 2010). My life’s journey has largely been hand in hand with Mormonism, and though I have no time for the institutional church, nor any longer do I believe in it, that is still who I am. I still hold to the good standards of the LDS. I have a son and grandchildren who attend, and I still wish I had the option of fellowship with the members on an honest, cultural level. That feeling may change in time, probably depending upon my son Edwin’s future involvement, but for now that is where I am. I told the SP that he therefore has a problem.

He either accepts that I shall be a free spirit, thinking, speaking and writing as I honestly see fit, or he must attempt to discipline me, but if he does so, then it will be for speaking the truth, and that will be newsworthy; the media will have questions he will need to answer. In conclusion I said I had no wish to be in the position I was in, but that honesty had defeated loyalty in my case; I cannot deny what I have found. I cannot revere, admire or follow the man Joseph Smith, whose life is routinely misrepresented by the church, from the account of his alleged first vision right up to his dying words; the real Joseph was not the man who is spoken of in Sunday School, and I cannot in good conscience follow a paedophile and womaniser who pretended to his followers he could translate that which he could not.

The SP kindly assured me that he had always known me to be an honest man, and had never doubted it. He apologised for his own faults, and said that he realised this meeting should have occurred some years ago. I thanked him, and agreed it would have helped if we had met at an earlier date. Things finished on a high when SP said he was going away to think about what had been said, and thought we might need to meet again, and then hesitatingly added he would like me to go away… at which point Sophia and I laughed out loud, and we all laughed. I interjected “I bet you would. Where would you like me to go? Onto President T’s patch?”  (Pres. T presides over the adjoining stake). SP answered: “I wouldn’t wish that on him!”

Bishop had seemed a little agitated at times by the information we shared, but this was after all new to him, and we understood his reaction, because that had been ours too upon first hearing it. SP appeared to be somewhat more familiar with the historical difficulties, and sat there sadly nodding his way through proceedings, apparently understanding, if not actually agreeing with the conclusions we had drawn from our experiences. I think a positive message was delivered. I anticipate that the Area Presidency will tell SP to keep a careful eye on me, and find out more in due course, and, if I continue to speak my mind, to call a council for me. I gained the impression that on a personal level that is not what my SP wanted to do.

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