After conference weekend in April 2015, my wife and I decided to stop going to church. It was a decision that we had been considering for at least 6 months. We knew it would affect many people: our 6 kids, most of all. We agonized over it. We talked to our Bishop. We prayed.
Leading up to this, in January 2015, our Home Teacher came over to share the First Presidency message: “Follow the Prophets” by President Thomas S. Monson. It was a story of young Thomas Monson in the Navy. He talks about serving in the lowest ranks and desiring after the war to become a commissioned officer.
After much excruciating study and hard work he was finally offered a commission as a Naval officer. At the same time, he was called as a counselor in his bishopric and was devastated when he realized he couldn’t do both.
Our Home Teacher paused here to pose the following question to my 10 year-old Gabe, and 8 year-old Ethan:
“What would you guys do if you got into this situation?”
“Pray about it!” they instantly exclaimed.
Then the Home Teacher said: “What do you think President Monson did?”
Ethan said: “He prayed and asked the Lord what to do, and then did that!”
The Home Teacher gave the “long yeeeeahhh” that meant Ethan didn’t quite give the answer he was looking for.
President Monson did pray. Then he visited his old Stake President, Elder Harold B. Lee, who was then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve.
President Monson described his predicament to Harold B. Lee, who said:
“Here’s what you should do, Brother Monson. You write a letter to the Bureau of Naval Affairs and tell them that because of your call as a member of the bishopric, you can’t accept that commission in the United States Naval Reserve. Then write to the commandant of the Twelfth Naval District in San Francisco indicating that you would like to be discharged from the reserve.”
Thomas described the irreversible consequences of rejecting the commission and replied: “Are you sure this is the counsel you want me to receive?”
Elder Lee replied: “Brother Monson, have more faith. The military is not for you.”
Our Home Teacher said that President Monson looked back at that decision as the most important decision he ever made; and if he wouldn’t have done it, he wouldn’t have become Prophet. As a conclusion to the message, our Home Teacher summed everything up by saying “So, the moral of the story is: follow the prophet, follow the prophet, follow the prophet!” As he pounded his fist into his open hand.
Gabe then asked, “What if the prophet asked you to do one thing, and Jesus told you to do another?”
The Home Teacher said: “You follow the prophet!”.
He explained that “sometimes we want something so much that we think that it is the Lord’s voice, but we really should just follow the Prophet. He will never ask you to do something that is wrong.”
We respectfully disagree with that idea.
Now, I want to say that we don’t have any hard feelings toward our Home Teacher. We didn’t “get offended” by our Home Teacher in any way. In fact, we love him and are grateful to him for his desire to help our family. We take no issue with any one person for the current “follow the prophet” mentality, but we do have strong feelings about this topic. I had been studying it in depth, trying to find the origin of the “follow the prophet” mantra.
After he left, my wife and I pulled our kids aside and shared with them the a quote I had found from Joseph Smith:
“We have heard men who hold the priesthood remark that they would do anything they were told to do by those who preside over them — even if they knew it was wrong. But such obedience as this is worse than folly to us. It is slavery in the extreme. The man who would thus willingly degrade himself should not claim a rank among intelligent beings until he turns from his folly. A man of God would despise this idea. Others, in the extreme exercise of their almighty authority have taught that such obedience was necessary, and that no matter what the Saints were told to do by their presidents, they should do it without any questions. When Elders [leaders] of Israel will so far indulge in these extreme notions of obedience as to teach them to the people, it is generally because they [the leaders] have it in their hearts to do wrong themselves.” (Joseph Smith, Jr. Millenial Star, Archive Volume 14, Number 38, Pages 593–595)
We explained that we should never do something we know is wrong, no matter who tells us to do it.
The following Sunday we all went to church. It was a rough day for us because the theme was “follow the prophet”. All the talks and lessons were centered on that.
Julie sat in Primary as the kids sang “follow the prophet” and then helped our daughter Lauren give a talk on the same topic.
They used a conference talk for the lesson in Elder’s quorum called “Follow the Living Prophet” by Sister McConkie. I held my tongue pretty well until the end, but it got to the point that I had to say something.
I talked about Lehi’s experience in the Book of Mormon and how he wasn’t “a prophet”. He was just a concerned father and husband taking care of his family. He disagreed with the church of his day and took a stand to do what he thought was right.
I also talked about Moses trying to get the children of Israel to go up the mountain and see God but they were afraid. They wanted Moses to go and talk to God for them.
I said that being too dependent on the prophet is dangerous.
I got blank stares, silence and a long-yeaaaaah from the instructor.
From this point on, we were done. It wasn’t because we didn’t like church. It wasn’t because of the church’s checkered past, or any “Church History” topic. It wasn’t because of anachronisms in the Book of Mormon. It had nothing to do with Joseph Smith. It had nothing to do with women and priesthood or homosexuality. It was because The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and modern Mormon culture teach our kids to “willingly degrade” themselves to the point that they forfeit their “rank among intelligent beings” and enter what Joseph Smith called “slavery in the extreme”. We simply could no longer subject our children to an organization or culture that taught them to follow a man, instead of thinking for themselves.
On March 1st, 2015 I wrote this letter and never sent it.
We have decided to leave the LDS Church. This is probably the hardest thing we have ever done. We want you to know we haven’t made this decision lightly. We have made it a matter of serious consideration for a long time. It’s a big decision and affects a lot of people. We have been trying to avoid causing pain in the family, and with our friends. I know it will be hard for a while, but is something we have to do.
This in no way changes how we feel about any of you. If you are concerned or interested in talking more, we are open to talk about our feelings, our beliefs, or explain the reasons for our decision.
Bucky & Julie
Instead of telling the whole world of some final decision, we decided to simply stop going . We wondered if after a few weeks we would feel a huge void and decide to go back.
There was no void.
After a couple of weeks I began to look forward to Sundays for the first time since high school (the last time I was inactive).
At first, we tried to replace church with Family Devotionals. Then it became “Family Nature Time” as we ventured outdoors. Which gave way to “Family swim at Lifetime Fitness”. We started eating out, going to movies, and going shopping. We realized that Sundays in Utah are like an exclusive club for non-mormons. They get the whole town to themselves. No lines, no traffic, no crowds. Utah Sunday’s are a non-mormon’s paradise. We realized that we could do whatever we wanted, and are currently still loving Sundays. We play, we work, we study, we talk, we eat, we veg out.
No one misses the frantic pre-church melee. No one misses the yelling and the threats to avoid being late. No one misses spending hours preparing lessons or posters. No one misses being thrown into a room with strangers they have nothing in common with other than living within the same arbitrary ward boundary (although we do have awesome neighbors). Instead we see the people that we want to spend time with the most: our family.
Our daughters did miss wearing dresses and getting treats. So, we taught them that they can wear dresses anytime they want, which Grace usually does, and that mom keeps a stash of treats that they can get any time.
Our kids still don’t really know why we stopped going to church, and they don’t really care. They are kids, they don’t think about theology. They don’t have big deep questions very often. When they do we are perfectly fine with saying “I don’t know.” We teach them that it is probably better to not know, than to hold onto answers that may be wrong. We teach them that they can ask questions, research, learn, change their mind, make guesses, make-believe, and challenge authority. We teach them to be skeptical and to always ask why.
We teach them that faith is a deeply personal thing based on experience and conviction. Everyone has different experiences and therefore everyone has different beliefs. Some people believe those experiences are evidence of God, some people don’t. Some people need hard evidence to believe, some just need a feeling. Some people believe a lot of what they hear and see, others question their own senses. We teach them that this is all OK.
So, as I reflect on this past year as Conference weekend 2016 approaches, I ask myself:
“Was this the right decision for our family?”
I don’t know. I stopped asking those types of questions. What does “right” mean? We do what we want. We follow our dreams. We follow our heart. We follow our intellect. When those are in conflict we run calculations and weigh it out in our highly-evolved (or god-given) brains and make a decision. Then we make the most of it.
There is conflict. We love some things about the church, yet want to be honest about our dissonant feelings. We want to remain close to family and friends that won’t understand, yet need to be true to ourselves. This has been a hard decision, but for now, we’ve weighed it out and have decided to continue to enjoy our Sundays with just our family. Luckily we believe that we can change our beliefs at any moment as we collect experiences (or gain further light and knowledge).