As my wife hadn’t been active at church for a few weeks (something very much out of character), she’d received a letter from a sister in our ward enquiring after her welfare. I will add here that this is more than I got when I went inactive.
Anyway, she decided to reply to the letter, not realising the hell-hole that she was about suck us into. She wrote about some concerns that she had after reading aspects of church history, namely contradictions that she had found between original doctrines and the Church’s teachings today. She tried to reconcile the contradictions in her mind, but it was like trying to put a square block through a round hole.
Along with her concerns she included her belief that the Book of Mormon was true and that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God, despite her troubling findings. But I guess, at the time, she was trying her damnedest to hold onto her beliefs. So she was salvageable, and could be returned into the bosom of the Saints. But she, like me, was suffering from immense cognitive dissonance that was almost too much to deal with.
Of course the sister in question took the letter to our bishop. And you would have thought that all hell had suddenly broken loose. The bishop called our home and asked if he could schedule a meeting with us. We obliged, thinking that this would be a good time to have a heart to heart with him. We had a lot of issues bottled up inside of us that we needed to let out.
We talked about what we would discuss with him and we even began to feel positive about the meeting. I think we were seeing a glimmer of hope, something that we’d not felt for a while. We intended to be open and honest with him. And we would let him know that we still believed in the LDS Church and everything that that meant. But we needed help.
The bishop arrived, with one of his counsellors, and the meeting did not go as we had envisioned. It was a complete and utter shambles. Right at the start, our feeling of hopefulness was replaced with feelings of hurt and anger. The bishop had refused my wife’s suggestion that we begin the meeting with a prayer. Something that’s standard in the Church. We should have realised how things would turn out after this rebuff.
According to our “good” bishop (somebody who was known in our ward as being the kind of person who would do anything for anybody), after reading only a small part of the letter, he screwed it up and threw it in the bin. Apparently, what he had read had so troubled him that he couldn’t go on without losing the Spirit. Therefore he didn’t get to the bit where my wife had borne a sincere and honest testimony. I think, with hindsight, she should have put her testimony at the beginning of the letter. But she didn’t know that it would actually be seen by the bishop or that he would react as he did.
The meeting became a blur after he told us about his experience with the letter. Of course we tried to reason with him but he would have none of it. He wouldn’t engage us in discussion at all. We decided that this was down to his ignorance. He appeared completely out of his depth with the kind of questions that we were asking. For him the appeal to faith was enough, but for us it was far from being satisfactory.
I don’t think I had ever felt so frustrated in all my life. Our concerns were potentially of the kind that could damn us in the next life if we didn’t make sense of them. That’s how seriously we viewed them with the eye of faith. Yes, we still thought the Church was true, but we had doubts. We weren’t totally sure. We had convictions, but cracks had started to appear. It seemed that cognitive dissonance had become more of a constant companion than the Holy Ghost.
The bishop continued by accusing us of out and out apostasy. This didn’t make sense to me. Since when did having concerns constitute apostasy? I hadn’t tried to lead other Mormons astray with apostate ideas. I genuinely believed in the LDS Church and I honestly felt that I had a testimony of Joseph Smith’s divine calling, but I was in a very difficult place and needed help in understanding some issues relating to church history. I wanted to return to activity, but couldn’t at that moment in time, as I needed to step away from Mormonism in order to view it in proper perspective. Get a bird’s eye view. How does any of that constitute apostasy? More confusion ensued.
Though we were no different to other Mormons who thoughtlessly acquiesced to the opinions of religious leaders who knew better than us by virtue of their positions within the Mormon Church, we both knew that the bishop was wrong on this, so very wrong. We knew ourselves better than he could ever know us. This meeting would become a pivotal event in my life as it would lead me to question whether God does in fact give people stewardships, and if he actually has priesthood on the earth today.
Anyway, along with his condemnation, the bishop said that we shouldn’t make any more contact with our fellow ward members, and neither would we receive home and visiting teachers. I was now completely gobsmacked, so much so that I think I lost the power to close my mouth. We were both hurting by this point, and more confused than ever. We both felt betrayed, and I felt like I was now an object of ridicule and a target for open mockery – in my own home! – simply for having issues with the Church.
I had considered the bishop a friend. Even so, theologically, he should have had our backs. A bishop leaves his flock of ninety-nine sheep in order to find the one sheep that is lost. My wife and I were well and truly lost. That was evident enough. I guess we were naive to think that he would show compassion to us. I was shocked at how easily he could sacrifice two ward members. And Mormons vehemently deny that they participate in acts of shunning.
Never, until the bishop’s visit and his display of unrighteous dominion, had it entered into my mind that the Church might actually be false. It was the catalyst that caused me to view it for what it truly was – namely, a big fat ‘effin’ lie! Silly really, considering that it was probably the most logical conclusion to everything I had read about the history of the Church and the character of its prophets. With hindsight I can say that he did my wife and me a huge favour.
Yes, being treated in such a way had increased our dissonance ten-fold, but our feelings of utter abandonment had enabled us to reach conclusions that we might never have arrived at otherwise