Monday, February 7, 2011
Our Exit Story
Why we no longer believe. A complete family inc. former bishop and SP depart View
The Truth Shall Set You Free (March 2010)
Joseph Smith once said, “I don't blame anyone for not believing my history. If I had not experienced what I have, I could not have believed it myself. History of the Church 6:317
Similarly at this point I barely believe my own history, for it is not the path I ever wanted to be on, nor believed I would be.
Should you decide to read this document (sorry about the length) I hope you will do so out of love for our family and with an ‘open mind and spirit’. Please remember that these experiences and opinions are mine and mine alone. I completely understand that others view of the exact same experience can be completely different then my own. If you can put aside any preconceived notions of whatever you have heard of our lives for a moment then, I am hopeful that you will be able to read this story with understanding and love.
Please note the following details. Although some information contained herein may seem to be in opposition to what members are generally taught, every detail can be confirmed via published LDS sources and not from anti-Mormon information. In an effort to make clear what has occurred in relationship to the Thompson family and the LDS church, it is not my intention to make anyone question doctrine or truthfulness of one’s testimony of the LDS church. It is however my desire to make clear what information brought our family to the decision to depart from the LDS church on our own terms.
There may be those, who appear in a less positive light herein that may disagree or attempt to `spin’ things in a different light for themselves or for the church. However I hope that each of you knows me well enough to know that this is my honest interpretation of the events, exactly as they transpired. There may be minor memory or assumption errors, but I can assure you that the basics of the story are indeed authentic and accurate. The basics structure of this document was created in March 2010, shortly after our families decision as faithful tithing paying, and fully active LDS members to have our entire family depart from the LDS community and request our name removal. Although there is much pain described herein, it should be noted that by the time we had received our letters of name removal and the invitation to come back, from Salt Lake, that most, if not all of the pain from this time period had completely departed as we began our new journey into the ‘brave new world’ in which we currently enjoy. My hope is that as take the time to read this often lengthy document that you do so with an open mind and an open heart remembering that these experiences and interpretations are ours and ours alone.
To those who may appear in a negative light herein (I have been careful to remove and specific names), please know that we hold absolutely no ill feelings towards you. Those feelings of pain or hurt completely disappeared when we followed our hearts and removed our names, and association, from the LDS church. We sincerely wish all those who have stayed therein, all the blessings that they would desire.
As most of you are likely to be aware I grew up in London Ontario in an excellent LDS community in a part member family home. The idea of serving a mission appealed to me at a very young age. Our family although not typical was treated very well by the kind hearted saints in London. I was especially blessed to be part of a group of six LDS friends (4 male and 2 female) who have been great influences in my life and whom I am eternally grateful towards for the principals that they taught me and the examples that they set for me to this day. All of us have served missions (I served in Salt Lake City, Utah) and all of us married in the temple and have stayed active in the church, well until now.
My mission to S.L.C. was a great experience, I felt like I was sometimes walking in the real “corridors of power” as far as the church went. I had excellent access to the Church Office Building and other important LDS sites. My mission president, like I suspect many, was completely focused on stats and numbers. I did my best to keep the leaders happy (lots of baptism’s) while doing my best in the 18 months I was called to serve to keep my focus on serving the good people of the State of Utah. The longer I served the more important that part of the focus became and therefore the more positive my experience. I served in 1983 and 1984 when much of the church history challenges and the entire Mark Hoffman affair were beginning to come to light. (Note: for a short time in the 1980’s due to the economy, missions for both males and females were only 18 months).
TEMPLE MARRIAGE AND FAMILY AND OUR FAMILY OWNED WARD
After being sealed in the Toronto Temple in September 1990 my young bride and I eventually settled in the Southern Ontario area and moved into an established area with a large active ward. The area we moved to was known as a steel town and as such, most of the members were laborers who had a sort of illness I call the `auto dislike of the business class-disease’ or the `management types’ like me (I had a successful career in the sales management world). However there were many very good members, it just seemed like all the leadership was playing the musical chairs game and had for many years, they would often change callings. It was sort of like `the names changed but the faces remained the same’. It really was an odd sort of ward as far as my church experience was. I had served in lot of wards in Utah, as missionaries there often covered between 20-50 larger wards at one time. There definitely appeared to be a clear indication of a problem with loyalty and friendship and more than anything else, nepotism within leadership in the ward.
I knew that what I was seeing in this ward was, well not the normal sort of things. At least I thought. You know no one really served missions from the unit; the people who kept changing hats from leadership were all related one way or another and they seemed to always come from certain families. Having skills, talents and abilities was somehow a little less important in this ward than in others I had attended. A member of the former Stake Presidency would publicly state in a Stake Priesthood meeting years later in reference to the Hamilton area “Oh well, from what I hear you’re all a bunch of in-bred’s up here anyways”. I about lost my dinner when he publicly stated that one. He never denied it or retracted the statement. There were an awful lot of us that had a good hearty laugh at that one!
In regards to what I thought was unusual practices and nepotism, I was really good with it all as I was very involved in business and travel and it would have been very difficult to handle a lot of church responsibilities. In my adult life for church service I often served in the Young Men’s program and found it to be quite rewarding as far as my church service goes. Socially it was a difficult ward to be in as a return missionary, married in the temple and all that, due to the fact that most of the members had simply not gone down the normal path of Mormonism and many, I would guess had not been all that active in their youth, and were likely brought back to activity after marriage due to family connections. The pure hearted converts, or those like us who were more traditional business orientated members, were kind of blacklisted in a weird sort of way. I saw so very many good, pure hearted people who were brought in by the missionaries and then immediately treated poorly, or at best ignored. That did not make me very happy and I would publically state my frustration with the problem.
To be fair, I was not the perfect Mormon, and all of the travelling did create some distance for me and the church. I would regularly attend but not necessarily look the part (you know the whole white shirt thing). As a result I never really fit in socially. There was a short time where I drifted away, just a little. Not really total inactivity but with the travel and all, not really full activity. As a result of not feeling overly included in the ward we even tried to attend another ward but were soon told we were not welcome because they could not give us a calling. The LDS church is very strange this way in its geographical control of its membership. I know of no other religion that controls even the congregation its membership decides to attend. Back to our old ward we went. I knew my children, no matter how normal they were, would never be accepted wholeheartedly because of the family name thing in that ward. I saw lots and lots of un-Christ-like behavior and conduct towards others in that ward and it was difficult to witness week after week in a church that I believed at the time was God’s Church. It is there that the seeds of doubt began to in a very small way be planted. I would often ask myself, “If the church is perfect, or true, why Mormons aren’t better Christians”. There always seemed to be a disconnect in the culture between believing the church was true and having the true principals of Christianity sink down deep into their souls.
I also thought that if we only were concerned about how we “appeared” and not what we were `becoming’ then something was seriously wrong. I saw in the church through the years, an awful lot of emphasis on the “appearance” and very little emphasis on the “becoming”. I would often think, “What does it matter if the church is true or not if the truth is not significantly changing who we are? If all the same jealousies and anger and get even attitude’s are part of who we are, what does the truth issue really matter?”
The strange thing in my experience was that un-Christ-like behavior was far more prominent in the Mormon culture than it was part of any of my other social experiences, such as work, non lds friends, community service groups I was part of or even the Salvation Army Church where me and my wife volunteered to serve the homeless for many years. I also found it strange that the LDS church leaders would encourage its membership to serve outside the church but no one really ever did, except us and a couple of others, how could they, they had no time to do so while they were working their 9-5 jobs, having children, serving in the church callings, going to the temple, the farm, doing home teaching, participating in lots of extended family events, cleaning the chapel, attending meetings for the youth or their callings throughout the week. If they were leaders it was far worse, the meetings work load was tremendous for these people, often family and work life suffered terribly. Certainly they had no time for external service or non member friends. It almost seemed to me like the demands of the faith was detrimental to its own success, kind of a Achilles heel to massive growth you might say.
At some point of this `casual activity’ we were very close to going completely inactive, instead, we determined that we needed to give it our complete devotion and that maybe we could change things in some way in our area or at least show kindness to the outcasts. We went back fully committed to giving it our all. I got the more normal looking haircut, wore the white shirts and ties and did all the stuff both publicly and privately that I felt would show a real commitment.
Regardless, I looked forward to the day when I was no longer in that ward, it had unique challenges and was not normal……or so I thought! Finally, a small miracle happened, after we had moved to another home which still happened to be in the same ward, the stake made boundary changes and we were going to be attending another unit. I think the bishop of the neighboring unit may have had something to do with this as he knew our ward had a reputation for not effectively using some of the talented and capable (I am so humble sounding here I know) and likely put in a word to get us in. We were confident, successful independent members, why wouldn’t he want us in his ward! Well, I think it is fair to say, he was getting way more than he bargained for with our family in his ward!
SERVICE IN THE YOUNG MEN’S PROGRAM AND THE LDS CHURCH’S FINANCIAL CONTROL
I had never really served in church leadership, other than a short stint as Elders Quorum President; I had served in the Young Men’s (YM) program my entire adult life. This is likely why I stayed active in these years under tremendous work and family stresses, because…..well it was the purest service I had ever given. I connected with these YM and found them to be far more pure hearted then their adult parents or other leaders in the ward. I valued my relationship with them and the feeling of good service given while in my old ward. I would often get in trouble as I never really supported the churches financial rules pertaining to church run programs for the youth and it would be fair to say that I was very creative when it came to activities. We had a lot of very, very fun high quality activities and no one; no one was ever left out due to not being able to afford it. As many of you are likely aware, the LDS church has a very strict budgetary program, each of the ward units within Canada take in approximately $200,000 annually (for a detailed picture of the LDS Church’s financial picture in Canada please see the revenue Canada charities information site at:
http://www.cra-arc.gc.ca/tx/chrts/menu-eng.html and enter the search parameters for `Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints’ and click on the individual ward then the highlighted `T3010 Return’ you can then view each ward return by year). Although most wards in Canada collect more than $200,000.00 each year in from member’s tithing donations, only approximately $8000 is given out to each congregation for all areas of activity’s and stewardship which means that a standard YM program is given approximately $60-70.00 per YM for the entire year for all activities conference’s and camps on a ward basis. You can imagine this is a totally unrealistic way to run successful YM outings on a regular basis. As a result I often would simply, quietly pay for it. Why not, I felt that I had been blessed with a successful career and I had the funds to do so and I did not feel that I was doing so for self gratification. I simply would not submit the receipts.
What I did not realize however was that as the program of the deacons for which I was responsible, kept getting more and more large in attendance, a few of the parents and leaders were getting more and more jealous. After all why would they want their boys to participate in good, high quality activities at the church....right? Even though more YM were attending the activities in the unit than had for many, many, years my innocent desire to run high quality activities and more simply just love them, kind of backfired on me and eventually I was released. Why was I released? Well that was never really told to me by the bishop, but I heard about the whole jealousy thing later by others and I felt kind of stupid because I have never thought myself better than another due to money. Being successful never meant a thing to me; I have always been generous to a fault. That did get me into trouble at times in my life. I have since learned sadly, that you must be very careful of how you give, regardless of the pure-heartedness or the intent.
A NEW HOPE!
Back to the ward boundary change-
Finally we were free! Free to serve in another ward that would use us. I remember the Sunday that we were released from our callings due to the change in the boundaries. Everyone was so kind that day, we had been in the ward more than ten years and one of the prominent Senior Sisters of the ward came up after the Sacrament portion of the meeting to tell my wife, “hey you (snapping her fingers).....what’s your name again.....you must be so sad that you are leaving!”
In ten years she had never even found out what our names were. It was just kind of a typically representative experience in that ward for us. Oh yeah, we were so sad, so sad that we had to stop ourselves from giving each other high fives that day! I felt bad that in order to be respectful we had to look humble and keep from looking at anyone lest we start to laugh. Even now it all seems very funny to think about!
The bishop of the new ward seemed like a fun character, worked for the church and seemed to know the in’s and out’s of absolutely everything to do with Church Leadership and government. He quietly told me once that he had a close friend on the High Counsel that gave him any information he needed to keep up with all the changes and politics. It was his second time as bishop and we quickly became friends. I never really judged him for his crude comments while in our hot tub, or his leering eyes at my wife’s swimsuits, nor his willingness to tell all about private juicy interviews he had with the Young Women or Single Sisters of the ward. I just figured that he needed an outlet, and that I was spiritually mature enough to handle it better than someone else. I never really took it all very seriously as I had always been one of those kinds of people that others felt comfortable to open up to and well, he had an awful lot to say! Oh yes he complained, complained and complained about his calling and the church, he especially complained about the church and money, how much the church took in and how much they gave back to the members, or employees. I kind of sympathized with him and thought it was likely that he just needed to get it off of his chest or vent and that made me feel important.
It is safe to say now, that I had no idea, what a complex, character he was, how intelligent and manipulative he could be, nor the negative lifelong effect he had successfully been on others before we came along and likely long after we were no longer in the picture. Luckily, I was very confident in who I was and never really felt like I was his only friend or that I could only be loyal to him and him alone. In my mind I was his equal intellectually, and likely I thought, his superior spiritually (obviously I was wrong about the intellectual thing, oh well; one out of two isn’t bad!).
About six months after us being in the ward, we were no longer in the back row. I had been called as the YM president and was making good progress. This bishop was more supportive than others in the past had been, as I had taken over from a completely inactive YM president and the program was in shambles, it was pretty easy to make things turn around. I knew well when it came to youth the “If you built it, they will come” philosophy. And they certainly did, they came and we had a great program and I was allowed to just have fun with the boys. That is really all it takes to run a great program and I was appreciative of the bishop just allowing me to run things my way. Others were surprised by this also as his management style to others in the unit had been much more directive (some said he was a micro-manager).
So here we were having been in a ward for 10 years where we felt unappreciated, finally escaping the old “your not from the right family” mentality (or so I thought, we were to find out that family names from the previous unit were prevalent in the new unit) and doing well, happy, faithful, reading our scriptures as a family faithfully, prayers, FHE, temple, the whole bit. Luckily my job going well and I felt that I had it well under control. I did an awful lot of work very early in the morning so that I could get it done to be able to complete my other job, that of being a good member!
Although I have some real concerns about my belief in the LDS church’s early beginnings, traditions, practices and effects of Mormonism on our psyche, I will say that, I never, ever would deny the spiritual experiences that some have in it, nor the ability of anyone, of any faith for that matter to receive a personal answer to prayer or meditation, when it is sincere and humble and needed. I simply do not believe, nor have I ever believed that these `revelatory experiences’ are simply unique to the LDS Church or that we have some special claim on them more than other religious group does on them. I believe that thinking so simply shows great arrogance. I think that all mankind are capable of having them. Today I view spirituality as a completely individual thing, far from the confines of a religious organization and completely free from the confines of dogma or doctrine. It is fair to say that I no longer `know’ anything. I search for truth in a variety of places and traditions and I am happier than ever trying to figure out the universe from an individualistic approach. I have experienced some sort of spiritual experiences throughout my entire life while in the church, and I feel as though that part of me continues to grow in new ways today.
I do not doubt anyone’s reveletory experience; I may sometimes however doubt their interpretations of the experience.
While serving in the YM’s program of our new ward I had no idea that I was about to have some sort of revelatory or `foreseeing’ type of experience.
THE CALL AS BISHOP
About six months into our attending the new ward, I was on my knees in prayer an awful lot! We were in the process of adopting a child (our fourth, it never ended up working out due to his Fetal Alcohol Syndrome). At this time I had a clear, distinct spiritual impression that I was going to be called as bishop. This was quite an intellectually unbelievable experience as I had never really previously talked or been friendly with stake leaders, I simply never would have thought about such a thing on my own and to be completely honest it was not something I looked forward to. I never put the word `Bishop’ in my journal; I think I called it `church government’ but I have an actual personal record of the experience and I went and told my wife that I thought it was that of bishop. She is very practical person, who simply laughed at me and said something like “Ya right honey”.
When the Stake President called me months later and said he wanted to chat, I was terrified. I felt it was the answer to that personal, revelatory experience and I was literally beside myself trying to figure a correct spiritual way to get out of the interview and I pretty much told the Stake President this on the phone (I remember saying something like “come on President, “you don’t really want to interview me do you?”). My fears were confirmed during the initial interview and he said I would be on the short list, but simply to try to put it out of my mind as no decision had been made. I received a phone call a few months later and he said he did not feel he had to interview anyone else and had decided to submit my name to Church Headquarters. He indicated it would likely be in August that I would be called. I simply put my head down and went to work, trying to sincerely prepare myself for the new calling.
I certainly looked at the ward in a different way after that time. Questions began to enter my mind such as “Who would I call as counselors? Who needed to have their callings changed? I was so new to the ward, that it was all quite overwhelming. One important thing that the Stake President mentioned was that other than my wife, I was not to tell anyone, not even my children. I was very concerned about this as I had a close relationship with the current bishop; I was hopeful that the Stake President would inform the previous bishop of his plans and I mentioned my concern to him and left it in his hands. The previous bishop would often talk about who should replace him and the fact that he was `grooming’ some specific people for this (in my opinion in a personal desire on his behalf to still have some level of control upon his departure). This bishop was the `good old boys club’ sort of guy, and there is certainly some history in the LDS Church for this quality. Joseph Smith himself often encouraged this idea during instruction to the Twelve in 1839 he stated that above all else, "do not betray your Friend." He frequently reminded members that they should honor friendships above all else even to death. I realize now that the mistake in the end was mine for keeping a promised confidence to my leader. I knew if the former bishop was not given a heads up that I might be in trouble. How much trouble, I had no idea! The problem I had was that I had given my word to keep the confidence to the Stake President and I was determined to do so (guess I was raised wrong). Anyway, it took longer than planned to remove the former bishop; they were waiting for him to take care of a confidential matter in the ward. He never did, and I was left to conduct some `nasty business’ (church court of a high profile member) on behalf of the church on only my second Sunday as bishop. This difficult experience brought our new bishopric closer together in prayer and was a unifying experience however, it is something I look back on now and now realize that I could have handled this delicate situation better. The end result of this situation was spiritually correct, but how we got there was in a backward manner involving the former bishop’s direct influence and I suspect though I cannot be certain, his creative manipulation of others statements. This was now in late November 2007 and It only took only a couple of weeks for me to see that my friendship with the former bishop was over, he was obviously angry at me for the fact that he felt blind-sided by my call and he then went about trying to do his best to undermine my calling. He was also upset that I was not calling him more regularly for advice as a young ignorant bishop.
To some degree he was correct, as I was humbly trying to be less loyal, to a friend and more spiritual due to the calling. I was simply overwhelmed by the call and I knew for a certainty that he would want me to confide in him with things now as bishop, that I should not. I did not want to be in a situation where he wanted me to tell him something which I knew of a confidential matter and as a result I did try to create some healthy distance in the relationship. He called one day and I tried to carefully explain my feeling of being overwhelmed and my need to have a little distance in our relationship, but it just seemed to make things worse. I was also instructed by the Stake President to make drastic changes to what he felt was ‘His’ program and I don’t know even today how I could have acted differently.
The former bishop had now been a bishop in the ward twice and formerly a member of the HC. He did have connections and was very, very good at using those connections and influencing others. Shortly after I was called I was able to see just how far his reach extended when two men that he had been grooming to replace him, and their families, were constantly quite upset with me. After all I was not one of the wards `favored sons’ (a term known among LDS leadership that I was to be taught later during instruction by the Stake President”). I had taken from them what was, in their minds. I am sure rightfully theirs. They had both served in bishoprics and might both have been on High Counsel.
Who was I?
Basically in their minds I was nobody! I was however familiar with the membership located in the front and the back rows. I fully believed that leadership in the church often missed seeing those who were humble, and faithful because those of influence always seemed to be more careful of where they `sat’ in LDS chapels or who they associated with. The truly humble ones seldom ran up to shake hands of visiting authorities or try to look the perfect part all the time. The sincere pure-hearted were often the socially ignored and outcast. In my personal opinion, little has changed within the LDS church then had occurred during the time of Christ. Who did He choose to spend his time with, the religious leadership of the day or those who more often were ignored or `sat in the back of the chapel’?
I know that for many people, they did not expect that I would care about this. I was a typical successful LDS guy with the nice car, big house etc. in a very economically challenged area. Why would I care about the poor and humble? Well to be fair, my experience of years of being ignored and rejected in the other ward, had a profound impact on my understanding of who the pure hearted were, and often, where they sat! They were the ones often, trying NOT to be noticed. Those are who I looked for. These are the kind of people I had often been associated with in the church. I knew their hearts and they were the most dedicated and most under-used group of members in the church. The same is true of every ward I had ever been in.
“SHAKING THINGS UP”
When I was called as bishop the Stake President mentioned that he wanted me to `shake things up’ in the ward. I took that to heart and immediately released almost all of the senior leadership in the ward. Many of them would regularly complain about their callings and how long they served in this or that calling. Many of them appeared, at least in my mind, overused and seemed to simply deserve a break. I simply released them all. Little did I realize, how silly and stupid this was. I had no idea at the time how profoundly serious Mormons take their callings. The old story which was, `whether you’re a deacon or a prophet it’s how you serve that counts’ was what I ignorantly believed to be true in our church. Looking back now, I see just how foolish and immature I was. Wiser men would likely have handled things differently and certainly more pragmatically.
Well, it did not take very long until the former bishop, and a few of the prominent families in the unit were giving me a lot of trouble as a young bishop. Sometime the issues that they would complain to the Stake President and others about were simply just silly. There are so many of them that it would just be a waste of time to discuss them all here, but one example was that of women giving prayer in church. The handbook of Instructions stated nothing about this, but I found out later that in many wards in the church the `practice’ is that only men are to give the opening prayers in Sacrament. I personally found this `practice’ to be repugnant in the 21st century and as it was simply a `practice’ and not a stated `doctrine’ nor `policy’ I felt it was in my authority as bishop to do as I wished in this area. It was initially done completely by accident, as I had no idea it was even an issue. Our bishopric simply tried to ask for an opening prayer by listening to the spirit and extending the invitation. When I received a phone call from the Stake President about the issue I was completely caught off guard and made certain that as far as the Stake President was concerned that the decision to discontinue this bigoted ‘practice’ was well within my stewardship. I still continued to tell my counselors to simply follow the spirit but I know that there were an awful lot of sisters giving opening prayer in the unit thereafter!
Although my lack of experience and innocent belief system regarding the organization was likely ill advised the decisions did however have some positive effects. People who were never given the opportunity to serve were called to callings and they all did a fantastic job! There was clearly a feeling of enthusiasm and excitement in the ward in all but about five families. Those `five families’ would seldom shake my hand and some refused to call me bishop, they instead preferred to call me by my first name. That was no problem for me at all, as I was definitely overwhelmed by the call myself.
The ward began doing very well as far as the stats stuff goes. Things started going the way the higher up leadership takes notice of. Everything was really good right? Not quite, it all looked good on the outside and I was now the best friend of the little guy in the ward. Problem was that the `little guy’ carried very little weight politically speaking in the stake. People started to talk about this bishop in this ward and the way he was treating those poor `five families’ who had been in the ward forever. I was not as kind on that subject as I should have been. I had the attitude like `too bad, all you ever do is complain when you receive a senior calling anyways’ or `We are all equal, what makes you think that you are better than so and so’. Sometimes I even had the courage, in private, to tell them so (alright maybe one time only, but that was not helpful).
My attitude in a nut shell was that “We Mormons should start to act like better Christian’s”.
This sometimes rubbed those five families the wrong way.
There were a number of situations which showed me with clarity that we had some really un-kind people in our ward. One example would be the day I was called as bishop, one of the former bishop’s closest associates, cancelled a planned dinner together. Sometimes his group of friends would literally scowl at me, like the day he was released and I was called. Or the day I was going into my bishop’s office while I was serving in two callings, that of bishop and Stake Presidency member and it was very snowy. On that occasion I think I ran past one of the older men from one of the fabulous five (families) who was helping to shovel the walk. He was quite upset that I just ran into my office to prepare for a meeting and as I was hurrying by him decided to call me an ass! It was actually very, very funny, my wife and I both laughed about it later. I can’t think of all of the experiences which showed this group’s true nature to me but I can easily remember one particularly disturbing one:
One Sunday afternoon immediately following my return from church we received a phone call from CAS (Children’s aid services here in Canada). They wanted to come and visit our home as someone had called and complained about pornography and abuse in our home. We were shocked but since they had only recently been in our home to do a complete inspection of our family for the potential adoption that did not go through, we were not totally afraid of them.
We had done nothing wrong so we told them they could freely interview us and our children and they immediately came over. Funny thing was they said that the report had indicated I had kept pornography in my office exposed to the children. This seemed crazy as when we had the initial interviews for the adoption with them, we had always met in my office. I had to laugh at that one. As they came to the door to interview my children, I told them flat out that I knew who called and what this was really all about. They could not divulge the name but when I told them a little bit about my new calling, and the challenges I was facing politically in the ward most especially from the ex-bishop, they basically confirmed my suspicions and just went through the motions for the interviews. I feel so sincerely sorry for that person who made the call, to have nothing better to do than to be so jealous as to call CAS showed to me why this individual always appeared so very, very unhappy. I truly felt compassion on them.
CAS found that there was not a problem of any kind, they asked about pornography, I invited them to look anywhere in my home for anything like pornography, I flat out told them that the only thing we had ever done, was that about 7 years previously (when I was less active) I had taken some Polaroid (naked) photo’s of my wife. That they were kept in a private area of my bedroom, I had not viewed them in many years and really only kept them as a way to remember some fun, personal moments between me and my wife when we were young and foolish. They indicated basically that this was no ones business but ours (at least they got it right).
Finally at the end of the investigation that day in my home, the nice lady from Child Services mentioned that the type of report they received was as she stated a `cowardly type’. She obviously had distain for the caller and knew before coming in the type of call and the waste of her time and ours it would be. She indicated that they still fully investigate this type of complaint, but seldom find much truth in it. The caller would not leave any personal information and she mentioned that it sounded `suspect’ to her from the beginning.
I had nearly all but forgotten about photos in the bottom of my drawer in our bedroom. Could this be what the caller was referring to? How would they know? The CAS worker indicated that the caller had made a second complaint about how I talked with my twelve year old son in church one day (I had grabbed him from the back of his neck and had a stern discussion one day, when he was causing a lot of trouble) away she went no concerns. She interviewed everyone about it and found that I had done nothing wrong. I was however more careful about how I spoke to my children in church from then on.
I felt terrible that my new calling would cause such trouble and stress for my family and I felt just a little bit of doom for the future. I also felt that it simply was not normal, nor fair. I immediately burned the photos and wondered “what these people would do next?”
Little did I know!
I slowly and painfully began to realize something; something not so very good and something that felt, well, honestly almost evil. I really did not know (stupid me), just how mean and jealous, yes especially jealous some so called Christians can be (my wife and I are runners, she is very much into physical fitness and certainly she is quite attractive and as such often the unkind target of other women, especially those with self image issues). Looking back on it now, it likely had less to do with my magical style of leadership (lol) than it did with something much simpler. Just the old time honored jealousy thing.
The strange thing is, quite honestly, I am not wealthy at all in comparison to very many families from some of the Utah wards I served in on my mission. The very sad truth is that I believe with all of my heart that had my wife been a bit more overweight or a little less attractive that there would likely have never been much conversation about the photos by the youth or the adults! If I am right about this fact, it all seems rather petty to me now (there is far more to be said below about the whole photo thing).
THE WARD GROWS
Our Stake President who was in his last few years of his calling (when I was called he had served for 8 years as SP), kind of enjoyed watching how his plan was unfolding. I really looked up to him and tried to do everything, exactly as I was asked, whether I liked it or not. He was a big time successful Executive, now retired. I was successful in my business and had more time than most bishops to spend on the calling. I was able therefore to make substantive changes in a short period of time. The Stake President and I got along very; very well, we understood one another and often felt the same way about the problems with the members.
Our ward is in a very difficult area of Canada, in a stake that had lost 80 families in the previous year do to move outs etc... Our ward on the other hand was growing, and growing quickly. Our youth program was the largest in the Stake, MP attendance and RS was up. Even our primary and YW’s area was skyrocketing.
I realize now that looking back, this had zero to do with me, I had simply felt directed to put people in positions in leadership who were just waiting for the opportunity to really give it their all. They were an amazing group of people to work with.
Eventually the former bishop’s dissing of my name and position became a big enough problem that the Stake President asked him to serve in the branch presidency in the new Single Adult ward that was meeting in our chapel. That would `get him and his wife out of the ward’ he told me. I thought this was odd, to call someone who was not supporting his bishop to serve in another bishopric, but to be honest, I was just happy to see him and his wife go, and there were a few of the good hearted members within the ward who came to my office to express the same feeling.
His influence however, never really left. He still kept influencing those five families that he had influence over and the Stake President eventually decided it would be best if we had a meeting with him and a couple of members of the Stake Presidency and try to deal with the `problem’ face to face. They likely knew he could be a potential threat as he made no secret of the fact that while he served in the High Counsel, he alone had gotten one of the members of the Stake Presidency released, while he served as bishop, for authoritarian like behavior. This old bishop carried that information around like a `crown’ to those who he was associated with. Off to the bishop’s office we went, the Stake President, the member of the Stake Presidency he had at one time gotten released, the former bishop and I. Well....this was a difficult meeting! He was the last guy I wanted to have the Stake President pushing buttons on in my behalf. Nonetheless I was obedient. I don’t want to say much about a private meeting, but I will say that at the end of the closing prayer after the meeting was officially over, it became quite clear that this former bishop was a sad, unfit (health problems), unhappy church employee, who really did not like his life very much at all!
It was the first time I truly felt sorry for the man. I then realized what a terrible situation he was in. To work for the church, and see all the mess from an employee stand point, then, in order to keep his job, to have to attend his meetings, and keep his temple recommend. What a nasty mess the church creates by basically saying, “No Recommend-No Job!” Today, I realize that he is much brighter and wiser than any of us as far as the church goes. In my opinion, he does not believe it, but he cannot leave it. Again just my opinion here, but I honestly believe he is `stuck’ in what I call `Mormon Hell’.
SHOULD HAVE KEPT MY MOUTH SHUT
Eventually the chatter began to die down and I had to learn to be more careful of what I said. I have not always been the most reserved with my opinions. I think, looking back, I had at times to easily expressed my opinions. I had expressed my feelings in face to face conversations with others about my thoughts pertaining to the old ward, how much I disliked it! And there may have been one or two impetuous times when I did not speak positively regarding the former bishop or his motives.
I should have been more careful regarding these expressions and I sincerely wish I had been more thoughtful about expressing my feelings in regards to the former bishop and his influence in our unit. I mention this because I received a very, brutal, nasty email from the bishop of the other unit (our old ward), in July 2009. It is likely the most awful and judgmental and unkind letter I had ever received in my entire life. It kind of reminded me of the `crazy’ letters I would get as a child from my messed up mother. He ranted and raved about how I needed to keep my mouth shut, how I had no right to give my opinions on `His’ ward, he was also not happy that the stake had recently cut his boundaries and added a few families to our growing unit from His ward! Somehow he thought I had something to do with this (ridiculous, as a bishop of about a year and a half I did not even know how that stuff worked). I would later joke with a friend who was aware of the situation (not because I told him) that the former bishop thought I had a `bat phone’ to Salt Lake City. He threatened me in his email by saying (paraphrasing) “if you don’t shut-up I will tell the Stake President about who you really are...or...what I have on you”! I kind of scratched my head and thought; I wonder what he is talking about? The last thing I wanted to ever do was serve unworthily, and I felt that I had prepared properly for the calling and tried hard to be worthy of it.
I sent back an email to him and copied it to the Stake President and in it I was humble and apologized for my behavior that had offended him and suggested that he meet with the Stake President as I did not wish to serve as a bishop if I was at all unworthy. I truly meant that, I simply had too much respect for the office. I also asked him as the Handbook of Instructions guided me, to allow me to meet with him face to face. I eventually got a short email back indicating simply, he did not want to meet. No acceptance of my apology.
To this day my wife interpreted his email as a `black-mail’ (you better shut up or else....) I think that is a bit strong but I do think that he showed his true character in it.
I did not even think about the photo’s I had no idea what he might be thinking about. To be truthful, I never saw anything wrong with the photo’s I thought what I did in my bedroom in a normal male-female relationship was between my wife and me alone. I had read information from the church indicating that they stay out of the bedroom where possible. I did not therefore have any concept of what he might be thinking about. I was literally scratching my head. I honestly thought, I was worthy, I had done all the checkmarks of the church thing, you know Aaronic Priesthood, Mission, Callings, and Temple Wedding etc. I didn’t think I had anything to hide, at least not that I knew of.
NORM THOMPSON PHOTOGRAPHY OOH LA LA!!!
The counselor in the Stake Presidency eventually met with the bishop of the other unit and after much conversation, from what I was told of the event, they got out of him, the story that when I was formerly in his ward, how I had spoken negatively of it (I thought I was entitled to my opinion) how I refused to wear a white shirt and tie, that I had a funny haircut, and that he had heard rumors that I had naked photo’s of my wife. I would imagine if I am putting myself in his shoes that he was hearing that I had some unkind things to say about his ward, and look at my past! I was a rebel, and there may have previously been some truth to that.
Shortly after this bishop to bishop email rant, the Stake President interviewed both me and my wife, asked about the photos, I immediately told the truth, we told him that we had destroyed them and that they were taken many years ago during a time of `less activity’ church speaking. I also said “President, I never knew this was wrong, if I have sinned, please tell me so that I can repent”. He said, no that it was uncomfortable for members that had heard the rumors, but that it was not a sin, and that what this person had done by going into my bedroom drawer and viewing them was terrible and that my poor wife deserved an apology. He apologized for to her for this terrible situation. He was Christ-like and kind and exactly the kind of leader I had come to know him to be. (We came to find out later that a church Young Man that we had hired, to help him acquire funds for his mission, had gone into the drawer beside our bed while he was installing a plasma television in our master bedroom. Supposedly he had then told one person, his girlfriend, and all the rumors and gossip, then became...well.....viral!). He did ask if I wanted him to investigate this further and get to the bottom of it or if I wanted to leave it alone and try to move forward and forget about it. Obviously this was uncomfortable for me and my wife, and I was oh so happy to have it put behind us. He stated that the matter was “resolved and it was over, we should try to forget about it and move forward”.
I obeyed my leader and that is exactly what I did.
THE CALL INTO THE STAKE PRESIDENCY (for approximately two minutes)
A few months later, the Stake President mentioned in an interview that at the upcoming Stake Conference he would be receiving his release and that it was standard for the visiting Apostle to interview bishops and other potential candidates for his replacement.
Remember, I had been a bishop less than two years at this time. I had no inclination that anything was to happen, I would likely not have listened to the spirit if had told me anything, it was just too unbelievable. So I scheduled the interview, really not thinking anything about it. I was busy planning a large scale trip to Nauvoo for the entire ward, I had been successful in receiving a large donation from an unbelievably kind member who had received some `family money’ and I was very, very enthusiastic about having the ward enjoy a unifying experience of this kind. Although the ward was growing and doing well, there was still a major division within it. I am afraid I did not positively contribute to this problem. It is likely that my style of leadership actually made it worse.
I went to the Interview with Elder Nelson, completely unaware of the storm that was about to impact my life. I had a brief interview with the visiting Apostle and general authority, then I went home, my wife was out and about running errands as is normal for a Saturday afternoon.
Then it happened.
I received a second call from the Stake President and was asked to return to meet with Elder Nelson. The rest is a blur as I have a feeling that my mind could literally not keep up with what happened. I remember being brought into a room, Elder Nelson, the other GA and another man, was there, my mind remembered him only briefly as a newly called bishop in our Stake, who had served as a bishop in Australia and recently had been called in the ward where the Stake President had resided. He was a tall typical Utah looking man from Salt Lake City with very good business credentials. I had met with him only briefly at a previous meeting with the bishops for welfare.
At that time, he `called’ me as his counselor, stating that he was calling me to be his second counselor that the spirit had made this `very clear that this was to be so’. Another man who he had replaced as a bishop in the same ward, and who I greatly respected as a senior former bishop, was yet to call as his first counselor. I accepted the call, with something of shock falling out of my mouth like “I have never served anyone as a counselor before, but I would do my best”. Quickly we were whisked into another room so that Elder Nelson could, as I was to find out later, ask my wife some probing questions about my worthiness. I was surprised to find out that it was not really about my worthiness so much as it was about anything that would embarrass the church. The strange thing is that they never asked me anything about my worthiness. It was left to my wife to `tattle tale’ on her husband and they basically told her just that in a room full of men, without me there. It was for her an uncomfortable situation something to this day feels very wrong about the position that these `men’ placed her in. If they had given me the opportunity to discuss this `embarrassment’ I would have gladly done so as from the beginning I never believed there was anything wrong and my file leader had told me so. Too bad they felt to use a tactic similar to policing and military organizations by dividing us. If they had simply had the integrity to ask me, I would have gladly informed them. I already believed at this point that of course my previous Stake President would have brought this to their attention. It is fair to state she felt uncomfortable not because as the current Stake President would later `assume’ she felt guilty. She was told that those who did this should apologize by the previous Stake President, but because she was intelligent enough to realize the awful, authoritarian, and sexist situation in which she was being placed. Again the question was never “is your husband worthy”, it was simply “anything that will embarrass the church”. I was to find out that that question above all others is what matters to these men, more than honor, more than equality, more than integrity.
She was told by these `men’ something to the effect that they just ask the wives because the wives were generally more honest about the husbands behavior then they were themselves. They were definitely wrong about that in this situation. Gabriele had no desire to `tattle’ on me as some wives would. She knew, that were they to simply take the time to ask me that I would absolutely have told them the truth. To this day we are both disappointed by the terrible situation that she was placed in. Let me be clear here, as the Stake Presidents assumptions were wholly incorrect. Gabriele did not feel guilty, why would she. She felt disgusted at the awkward and uncomfortable situation within which she was place. Some would simply call it abusive. I simply ask, why did they not ask me? Why `grill’ her, and not give me the chance to state my opinion on my own worthiness? Why not ask me if there was anything which `might embarrass the church’ in my past? This feeling of awkwardness that they had put my wife in with three men of high LDS authority in a room, was later added upon, when in our first instruction as a Stake Presidency we were informed by a General Authority, that there are within the Church Leadership, an entire range of important rules that are ‘unwritten’ and kept quiet from the regular membership. One point made very clear was how having some control on the type of clothing that our wives chose to wear. Our wives were never to be seen again at a church activity or meeting in basically anything except a dress of a certain length and type. I was very uncomfortable leaving this meeting with the thinking that I must now have some say on what my wife chooses to wear. I knew better than to have this type of discussion with her, it would not have gone very well, and I would not have felt comfortable having it. I therefore kept it inside and said nothing, not knowing properly how to approach it with her. I felt that it was likely that she had enough common sense of her own that being raised in the church would likely help her figure this out of her own choosing rather than me trying to dictate the matter as was basically the instruction from the General Authority Stake Presidency training seminar.
Back to the call into the Presidency, I was in complete shock at the call. I did not see this calling coming. Nor did I ever feel like it was really me. I felt, not unworthy, simply unprepared but I was willing to do what the Lord wanted. I was in another room and the former SP came up to me. I had a rush of concern about the whole photo thing, but I thought, well, he had stated to put it behind me. I should follow my leaders counsel. However the feeling was concerning me so I went up to him anyways and simply whispered, “President, please tell me that you have informed Elder Nelson regarding the photos and the issues surrounding this situation”.
He was still technically the Stake President, he stated, “no I have not” and quite firmly, and directivity stated, that “I have handled this matter and it is finished. I have told you; put it out of your mind!” I kind of shrugged my shoulders and humbly followed the leader who was indeed still my Stake President.
I was nervous, but I believed if a man was called of God, though imperfect such as I was, and had been recommend by a leader who knew my faults and whom I sincerely trusted and looked up to, than I should respect his authority and move forward.
There was never, one single moment that I felt unworthy to serve, simply inexperienced to do so. I did not feel that I needed to repent, and had been told so by my leader.
A SMALL GROUP OF CONSPIRITOR’S
That night at the Adult Session of Stake Conference, they indicated that tomorrow a new Stake Presidency would be formed. Little did I know that there had been a secret meeting including a few of the members of my former ward; I believe the bishop from the previous ward and a couple of others as well some from his extended family in our my ward and `others of influence’. I cannot be certain exactly who was present but I have a reasonable idea based upon confidential information provided by a reliable source. These members were unsatisfied with the Stake Presidents handling of the situation with the pictures. Angry that the information had not gotten me released as bishop, angry that he still had faith and confidence in me. Angry that I had ever been called as bishop and angry at me for the way I handled callings and releases in the ward, more specifically, that they were not on the top of the list. They were determined to do whatever it took to bring me down, using any means possible including going over their leader’s heads if necessary.
NON SUPPORTIVE SAINTS
The next morning the new Stake Presidency was announced and a vote for support was called for. Well, the voting was not unanimous, two or three members of the family of my ex bishop from the previous ward raised their hands in opposition; I saw them with my own eyes. One of them, quickly thereafter leaving visibly upset. It was unclear, what had just happened, as one of those who opposed, I had absolutely no contact with nor had I ever really spoken to.
I cannot tell you the pain, or sadness I felt at that moment. Unfortunately there was only more pain to come.
What had I done to deserve this? Why had such a thing caused me to the other good men of the new Stake Presidency into such a terrible situation?
Sadly I knew the controversy was about me.
I do not believe now, nor did I really believe then, that it was really about pictures. That was simply the excuse or ammunition that I had easily provided to them to complete their task. I immediately knew that there was a big mess, and regardless of my worthiness, that the burden was on my reputation and not the other members of the Presidency. I whispered to the brethren in the Presidency that the trouble was my making and I immediately apologized to them. I however spoke and felt that I was called and that the problem was the people who were not supportive of their leader. That is what I was told from this point forward, by both the new Stake President, the Apostle and everyone else involved. Then Elder Nelson supposedly instructed the new Stake President at that time to meet with those who opposed to try to calm down the situation and move forward with the Presidency as planned. He laid his hands on my head and set me apart as normal.
CHASING DOWN AN APOSTLE
The Stake President later mentioned that some of the members had been following the Apostle around after the meeting to try to tell him things about me and that he and Elder Nelson had found that to be quite inappropriate behavior. The former Stake President was not to allow the members to do this, and that it was standard protocol for him not to speak to members in this situation. I will never forget the moment I saw them all, sneaking around the halls after Stake Conference, waiting for the right moment to strike. I cannot tell you even today the ill feeling I have thinking about that moment. I simply never knew religious people could be like this. It was a side of the Church I had never seen before......It was not very `attractive’.
Honestly, I felt that they should be ashamed of themselves! What I saw was made me feel ill inside, that they must not realize what they were doing or how it looked. That’s what I thought, but I was wrong. What I have come to find out is that they knew precisely what they were doing.
OFFERING UP TO BE RELEASED
It was all incredible and unbelievable to me. It was against everything I had ever come to believe about leadership and members and support. I went home and sent the new Stake President a copy of the `letter of bribery’ as my wife called it from the bishop in the other ward. I then told him the entire story, begging him to speak to my former Stake President to get more information if needed. Certainly he would stand up for me!
However, I did state in my email that should he feel that the new Stake Presidency could not move forward with the controversy before them, that I would happily resign and felt this was something he should immediately consider. It just seemed like the right thing to do. I truly did not wish to be a burden to the Presidency, and I really was quite happy to just serve as bishop. At this point if they had simply allowed me to resign due to personal reasons I would have been sad, but I would have understood and supported the decision. Better to allow me to humbly “fall on my own sword” if you wish. It would have given me the chance at least to be honorable.
I AM ASKED TO STAY ON AND TO SERVE FAITHFULLY
The Stake President sent a short email back indicating that he would support me and that the Lord had called me. Nothing had transpired that would prevent me from serving faithfully. I continually asked in email’s, phone-calls and face to face meetings if he was certain that everything was okay, if he was certain that this is indeed what he felt was best to have me continue. I was continually instructed that he supported me and was determined to listen to the saints and then move forward.
That was enough for me and once again, I determined to put the controversy behind me and felt I should work hard for the new Stake Presidency.
I was though, in shock, what so terrible a thing had I done to cause the controversy, was it really about a 7 year old photo of my wife? There must be something more here, something I don’t know about. Sadly I found out later that these same members that were simply exhibiting jealous and unsupportive behavior had been telling outright lies to the good and faithful in the back row in an effort to garner their support. I don’t know the exact cruelty of the lies as a friend refused to repeat them to my wife but said the lies and rumors were much bigger than simply photos of my wife. They stated to my wife, “I cannot repeat them to you, for they are so awful and disgusting”.
RUMORS, GOSSIP, AND THE RULES OF THE `ART OF WAR'
I guess the gossip and rumor chain had created a far greater controversy than a few photos. Much later I found out that some of the rumors included me having my own pornographic website that I made money off of. I think some of the rumors still exist today among the membership. There had even been `gossip’ that I had done something sexually inappropriate with the YM under my care. I then knew that all of this had little to do with photos and that something darker was at work here. Simply put, the former leadership in the ward and his friends and the leadership in the other ward were completely and totally desperate to do what it took, to take back the reins of power within the stake like they once had, before Bishop Thompson was called. They were running out of time, and I was quickly moving up the calling chain. The group did whatever they could to quickly create a buzz in the Stake about the call and subsequent opposition. They went to people they felt they could easily influence and those that would be upset about the information in an effort to create a larger group of opposition to the call. They were quite successful, although only two or three people opposed the call, by the time the Stake President interviewed those wishing to express concern, a few weeks later, the numbers had grown substantially. Although troubled by what was happening, I put my faith, and trust in the word of the Stake President. I knew he was in a difficult and awkward situation but he had nonetheless made his decision and that was enough for me.
I worked very hard on behalf of the new Stake President. Our family has an annual excursion to Florida over the Christmas and New Years break and I did not want to take that away from them so I did my best to put some `quick time’ into my new position. I was incredibly thankful to be placed over the youth as well as the financial budgets and worked quickly to make some changes in these areas. There was an awful lot of work to be done before our Florida vacation, acting still as the bishop in my ward and attending all the meeting necessary for my new calling, but I was determined once again, to do all that I could do to serve faithfully, in both callings until anther bishop of our ward was called.
Meetings, meetings, meetings. Wow these men attend an awful lot of meetings. My wife just kept being supportive but all the time she kind of knew she was about to sacrifice an awful lot of me and I am not certain she was very happy about that deep down. She also kind of waited for the next shoe to drop, she is more practical than I am and never really completely trusted the word of the new Stake President. My oldest son was not happy because it likely meant he would have to try to `look the part’ of a Stake Presidency members son, and this was simply not who he was deep down in his soul.
“MERRY CHRISTMAS, IT’S NOT GOING TO BE A HAPPY NEW YEAR; AH SORRY I CHANGED MY MIND”
Off to Florida we went with the understanding that my family would not be seeing very much of me anytime soon. I was still managing the affairs of my ward, as well as being a member of the Stake Presidency, it was all quite overwhelming. Nonetheless, our ward organizationally was in good order and I knew I could manage it from a distance without too much trouble.
Everything was strange, new, exciting, humbling, terrifying and fun. For about two more minutes.
My wife as I said was waiting for it to come crashing down.
She did not have to wait too long!
She did not trust the word of the Stake President as much as I did.
While enjoying my Florida vacation with my family and celebrating the Christmas, I received a phone call on Boxing Day from the new Stake President; he had met with some of the members as planned. The controversy he said was much larger than he thought from just a couple of members who raised their hands in opposition to having many people in multiple wards aware of the photos and I fear, hearing much worse. The key challenge that he faced was this, a few of the group had indicated that they were upset enough about my call that during the upcoming ward conferences, they would not support the call by raising of the hands of the new Stake Presidency, if I were still a member in it. They threatened to cause trouble to the entire process of ward conferences due to my name. There are no words that can describe, even today, the pain that this news caused to me and to my family. It may have been blackmail, it may have even worked, but the pain that this knowledge caused us, was more than something I can explain in any document such as this.
What would he do, would he stand behind me and bring corrective judgment to those who had so maliciously gossiped about me and my family and spoken such awful lies? Would he really listen to those who had constantly tried to bother the former Stake President about anything that they could come up with simply because they were released from callings and did not get called into senior positions and whom I had in their minds ‘stolen’ the bishopric from.
Would he listen to his own inspiration from his own spiritual appealing to God or would he listen to those who, from the very beginning of my time as the bishop had done everything in their power to bring question to my name, to my family’s name?
All I ever wanted to do was simply, and humbly serve God, it was never about the organization or prestige, or outside appearances or wealth or any of those insignificant things in life. It was always, always about simple, humble service to my God.
Sadly for me it was the latter, he stated that he would be releasing me just as soon as they could `find a way to do so’ that he had not stopped thinking about it and that it was necessary. He also stated that he would find some other calling for me that was close to him because he knew I was a man “of great character and integrity’. That he wanted to be closely associated with me.
I said it was fine, not to worry himself about it, that it was his decision, that he was my leader and that I would try to support him. He also asked if I would continue to work and serve faithfully unit they found a way to accomplish the release. I gave my support, and then I hung up the phone.
Everything was however not fine. His decision only told the members that I was unworthy, that the rumors were true and that I should never have been called, to any church position. I was crushed. I had never wanted such a calling, but to be released in this way felt awful.
Why didn’t he simply release me right away? Why did the Apostle still set me apart? How could he ask me to continue to serve, attend meetings, set Stake Leaders apart, conduct temple recommend knowing how he and other people felt about me.
If I was not worthy, then I should not do these things, if I was worthy then I should not be released!
In my way of thinking, it was that simple.
Remember the former Stake President had met with various members of this group previously when they would complain about me regarding this or that. He had worked in leadership with some of them in the past, he knew their character, in other words he knew what their real motive and intent was. However the new Stake President had only been in the stake for a matter of months, it is only fair to assume that when people came to him describing what a terrible thing I had done he likely truly felt bad for them.
NO CHANCE TO DEFEND OUR GOOD NAME
I found out much later that some members were quite viral about the photo’s (you likely know some of these type of kind hearted Mormon’s) and that they threatened to influence their friends and family to oppose the new Presidency at all of the upcoming ward conferences if they did not find a way to get rid of me. They were determined to make a public spectacle of the new Stake Presidency.
I had no idea that members could do such a thing.
I was in complete shock.
It was this key factor that in the end made the Stake President change his mind. The threatening attitude of the members, right or wrong he will have to live with that and the knowledge that these people now have that they can get what they want with him or other leaders when they put up a fight. Maybe that is ultimately why they did not like or support me. I could see right through them and often had little time for their demands.
Why had the Stake President not accepted my resignation in the first place? Why make me go through all of this mess? I was torn by these questions. I tried to think about it from his position, what was he to do? He was in a difficult situation; does he keep his word to me (`everything will be fine’ you’re worthy and I don’t want you to resign or step down) or would things somehow change?
What would I do if I were in his situation; honestly I am quite sure what I would have done, I would have stood up for the man that I believed I was inspired to call. Why was it good enough for Alma the younger and not for me? Not that I had done anything like Alma the younger had done!
As I thought about what I would do if I were in his shoes, I realized that I had a similar situation while serving as bishop in my ward. I cannot disclose what exactly happened or this good man’s name might be at risk. But he was worthy and someone had accused him being unworthy, and had sent a letter to the former Stake President. I met with him to discuss the accusations and then spoke to the Stake President and defended his excellent character. I asked him to continue to serve in his senior calling in the ward. I met with the people who I felt were behind this situation to see if they would `come clean’. They did not.
I realize the situation was not quite the same for the new Stake President, but I thought he was a good man and would do the right thing. There were some things that really bothered me though about the whole situation, like why did some members get to meet with the Stake President to be interviewed and express their disgust and anger about me and my family, while me and my wife were never interviewed to defend ourselves against whatever other accusations were being made.. The Stake President never once consulted with me about the problem. It was all done behind my back.
One of the problems associated with the manner of the release, was simply the manner in which it occurred. My own mother in law thought I must have committed adultery or some other form of sin. Many people, even the former Stake President were completely shocked when they asked me if there was anything else. Referring to the new Stake President I think he said something like “he is a good man, there must be something else!” There was not but many good people were given the impression and allowed to think that there was.
All the time I was taking the sacrament, attending the temple, reading my scriptures, saying my prayers but feeling very, very lonely.
Something felt very wrong about the entire way that this was done. It was as though the Stake President was satisfied letting everyone think something worse that what it was. So many times my wife wanted to get up in fast and testimony and tell everyone that all it took was this group of people and a private and personal photo of my wife that I had previously had in my possession.
As soon as the members threatened the Stake President, I went from worthy to worthless. And that is exactly how I was treated by him from then on.
THE EXIT STRATEGY
When we came back from Florida we met with the Stake President so that he could go over his `exit strategy’ with us. Those details are kind of insignificant now, A Stake Priesthood meeting would be held, I would be released and a new member of the Stake Presidency would be called. It happened to be a bishop that I respected and suspect was much more prepared and deserving the calling than I was (I do not mean this in a negative way at all, he is a great man!). The Stake President asked that I continue to serve out the rest of the time until the end of January (this was the longest three weeks of my entire life, trying hard to serve faithfully and knowing what was about to come) when the Stake Priesthood meeting was added to the calendar in a rush to take care of this problem......me. At this same meeting discussing his `exit strategy’ at one point he asked me to do something that to this day, feels quite uncomfortable to me. I think it was motivated by self concern and that even in his heart of hearts that he knew it was wrong to ask.
He asked me to speak to the High Counsel. I said “what do you want me to tell them”. He indicated that he wished for me to tell them that I was being released “because of something in my past that would prevent me from speaking to the youth or parents with authority on certain subjects relating to morality”.
I was truly puzzled. As I did not feel I had sinned and neither was I told such? How could I tell the High Counsel such a thing? He knew clearly what my feelings on this were and that the former Stake President had indicated such. In my way of thinking it would be a lie and it would invite them to believe something far more terrible of me than was true. I told him that I could not do so, but that I was willing to meet with them and tell them the whole story regarding the photos, in other words the entire truth.
However, he did not want me to tell the High Counsel the entire story? I wonder why?
He clearly did not want me to tell the high counsel the real reason for my release. My belief now, is that certain members of the High Counsel at that time knew my integrity and were familiar with the `characters in my ward’ and the difficult issues that I was facing as a young bishop. Some of them might believe that I was being `railroaded’ and not be 100% supportive of this decision. He was a new Stake President and I believe he was seriously concerned about this. The former Stake President had spoken during previous high council meetings about the trouble in our ward. I know that he spoke highly of how I handled these matters I feel that the new Stake President was simply worried about the effect his decision might have on the former members of the High Counsel.
Sadly today, I believe with all my heart that he simply was doing what he had to do to protect his name and the name of the church, to avoid a controversy at any cost regardless of the correctness or honesty of the decision. I do not believe he was concerned in the least with the consequences for me or my family. I also believe that in doing this thing that he was unknowingly giving more power to unkind forces within the stake.
I do not feel it was the right decision but I accepted that it was his decision nonetheless; I simply felt that being that he had previously made his decision to have me continue to serve, that he had an obligation to stand behind it, unless I had kept something from him. He had already been given an email with my resignation if he wanted it; the time for that decision had then passed.
I have never believed that he handled this situation honorably. He never kept his word to me!
Remember the former Stake President had recommended my name knowing all about the silly photo thing. In the end I do not believe that any of what happened to us has anything to do with a photo, it was just the excuse that they found to get rid of the problem......me! If you were to ask any the key characters involved in fueling the gossip today I would guess they would likely admit this. If this is true, what does it matter “Whom the Lord calls”? What does it say about “Gods church”?
THE SCARLET LETTER
Was this all that you had to do to become an outcast? It could not be true. Could it? I guess I had still an awful lot to learn about the church, its leaders and politics.
We were indeed out-casts, not very many people spoke to us for many, many months. I am certain they felt since I was released that I must have done something awful! At least a year went by before just about anyone would sit next to me in Sunday school.
The feelings I had at this time were similar to those described in the Book of Mormon’s story of the Tree of Life. Lehi has a dream of the tree of life and the `iron rod’ while some in his dream made it to the tree and tasted of the fruit, they felt shame, Lehi looked for the cause of this shame and saw a large building that looked like it was floating in the air. The people in that building were all dressed in extravagant clothing and were pointing fingers and mocking those by the tree. I often had this image of the building in my mind, except the building was the Chapel and those pointing fingers were some of those good member families who felt justified to do so, justified by the decision in their actions towards our family and justified in the `righteous judgment’ they believed they took part in.
At least my wife was in primary, she could hide out among the pure hearted children, I was grateful for that. As far as the truly good people of the ward, which there are many, well I just don’t think they knew what to do, or say to help. They likely could see that I was in great pain; they must have felt that I was doing some serious repenting.
I wish it were that simple. Purity is simple, politics is.....well more complex! There never was any purity in this decision. This was a very dark and difficult time in my life. However my family was happy to have dad back home and my employer was happy to have me more fully committed once again.
TRYING OUR BEST TO SUPPORT A TERRIBLE DECISION
To compound the challenge with my release the stake president had decided to call me to a position I had absolutely no interest or experience in, that of Stake Employment Specialist. I accepted the call, as usual but once I had a chance to view the details of the calling and found that it was the one calling in the Stake that required no call for support from the membership (raising of the hands), well it is fair to say that I felt it was a slap in the face. I asked the Stake President why I was called to the only calling not requiring a sustaining vote call and how this just happened by some coincidence to be assigned to me. He indicated that there was simply no forethought on the matter, but it is fair to say that I felt it was rather convenient or I did not believe I was being told the entire story in regards to the call.
I tried to serve faithfully, but it did not take long for me to figure out that I simply was not ready for this and I asked if they would consider releasing me. I was grateful that he chose to do so.
Please forgive me for the repetition here, but I sincerely wish for everyone who knows me to understand the problem that I had accepting the decision pertaining to the release. I know what prayer is, I know what repentance is. I am not afraid of either. I had been told by one Stake President that I did not need to repent. I had renewed my Temple Recommend with the new Stake President just soon after the whole mess happened. Yet he decided to release me without attempting to find a way to express to the members in some appropriate manner my commitment and worthiness. I honestly feel that he had a moral obligation to do so, being that he was the one inspired to make the call and he was the one who chose to release me. To this very day, he has knowingly allowed many, many people to think things of my family that were simply untrue and he had done nothing to defend my good name. I do not feel that he has shown the level of integrity on this issue that is expected of anyone in his position. I believe that we deserved a higher degree of integrity from him on this issue, than what he provided.
To be frank, this is partly the purpose of this document, to tell my side of the story.
In the end all that I have is my good name!
In my opinion, he had a responsibility to clarify the message of the release as much as he did to protect his reputation, or the reputation of the church. He chose not to do so and quickly distanced himself from me in communications, emails and personal contact. There was no reaching out or effort to make it right in the eyes of the general membership. Finally after I reached out to him (not the other way around) he eventually came to our home some thirteen months later indicating that he was “plagued with guilt” as it pertained to how he handled the release, and the fact that he had kept me and my wife out of the loop the entire time as to what was happening. I am not surprised at all that he was plagued by guilt, and I would guess to this day he continues to be, no matter what he tells others. Other than that one time, he has said little to me or my wife over these past 2 plus years. When I was initially released my wife, who seldom ever really expresses herself emotionally to people, wrote a long heartfelt letter to him. He has still never sent a reply.
I have done nothing but be supportive of him and never told my side of the story, until now.
The new bishop of our ward, a good man, was one of the first to show kindness to me. One Sunday not too many months after the release, he asked me to bless the sacrament. This appeared like a small thing to do but I knew that he did so to help the truly good people of the ward be made aware of my worthiness. I am grateful to him for that decision however small, to help clear my name. However, we were still most certainly in `muddy waters’, some of which was my doing but most of which was simply out of my hands. How do you stop a conspiracy? That word sounds strong, but with all the integrity of my spirit, that is the correct description of the event. The funny was I was worthy to hold a temple recommend. I was worthy to bless the sacrament. But I was not worthy enough to serve in church government. I found this fact to very confusing and against what I understood the principals of purity and integrity within the church.
It all seemed very strange, confusing and quite silly. It all seemed so very different from the spiritually guided faith I believed with all of my heart the organization to be. It seemed more practical and political then it seemed Christ-like.
NOT THE END OF THE STORY
I was completely determined to continue in faith regardless of the experience that I had gone through in church government. I truly loved the principals of the gospel, I continued to pray, and study and attend as many meetings and activities as I could. It is fair to say however that although I tried to be humble and accept the decision, deep down, in my heart of hearts I knew it was wrong and was continually looking to the Lord to understand the experience better. I prayed regularly to have a clearer picture of what it was that the Lord wanted me to learn from this. I can’t deny that I often hoped that the Lord would bring some justice upon those who did this to me and my family. However I have learned to be willing to always state a desire to have the Lord’s will occur in my life. It is all I truly cared about. I believe now that indeed His will has finally taken hold, it just was not quite the way any of us would have predicted.
As a member of the church I was taught that `I am a child of God’ I have value, worth, divine nature etc. On the other hand we are given so very much to do and accomplish to get to heaven as to make it impossible for anyone to ever learn to put themselves first. Everything we were being told put the individual at the end of the list or not at all. God, church family, work, calling etc all came before the individual.
We are constantly involved in the game similar to Simon Says’ for peer approval or spiritual points. We are on the Mormon treadmill kind of like the game `Simon Says’. As such when ‘Simon says’.....well we follow, such as being told to go to meetings or fulfill assignments such as church callings, be obedient to the commandments, attend sacrament, Sunday School, Priesthood, callings, youth night and activities, special meetings, family home evening, missionary work, food storage, temple attendance etc. etc. etc. The game never ends.
Wow! How do we ever get time to think about us, and our personal relationship with the our God?
When, ever in our lives as Latter Day Saints do we come first? As a result we are almost programmed to not think of our needs or what is healthy for us.
I mention this, because over the past two plus years, until very recently, I had completely neglected my own needs. I felt a sincere and massive responsibility to represent the office of `past bishop’ by simply accepting the decision of the new Stake President no matter how unfair it felt. To this day, I respect the office of bishop. I felt that by simply attending church, without saying much about the decision or my true desire to defend my good name that I was in some strange way showing my loyalty and respect to the church and my former calling. I did not want anyone to find out the truth, or the unfair cruelty of the decision and the overall effect that it had on my self dignity.
I have many faults but for those who know me well, they know that the principal of `individual integrity’ is one area that I place great value upon. As such, when I was asked by the Stake President about the photo, though it was no longer in existence, it was quite easy for me to simply tell the truth, and tell him that regardless of the consequence I had taken it, and at this point some seven years later, I felt no guilt regarding the decision, though I also think it might not have been a wise one.
What I did not initially realize some two plus years ago was that although I thought continuing to attend church under terribly difficult and unfair circumstances for both me and my family was the honorable thing to do and that it may have shown my sense of duty, I do not however now believe it to have been very wise of me to continue to do so for my own self worth, my own self dignity.
That old well taught principal of putting everyone and everything before ourselves became for me, something that caused a great inner conflict.
I was honest with everyone else, but not very honest with myself. As such going to church was simply terrible for me. It was in some ways totally hypocritical to my individual integrity and self worth.
The conflict within my heart and soul became so profound that no amount of humble prayer, or scripture reading could help. There are some things that even these things cannot make right, some things that require a real change. I remember sitting in church a few months ago, and feeling like something was just not right, that I should not be here. It was such a powerful feeling that I felt claustrophobic, like I could not breathe knowing deep down that something was wrong with me continuing to be there. It was truly a feeling that I was denying a truth that I could not deny very much longer.
DISAPPOINTED ONCE AGAIN
I might have gone on this way for the rest of my life, attending and being completely committed to an organization that at best, had not earned my devotion. An organization that clearly, in my own opinion now, was far less honest and ethical than I was. This likely would have continued had it not been for one, very small issue that transpired recently between me and the Stake President. Something that helped add clarity to the overall picture of my release.
When the terrible destruction occurred in Haiti recently, I was very moved like many Canadians by the situation that these poor people were in. I was quite impressed that the Stake President decided to respond quickly and encouraged the membership via an email to donate to this cause, and if possible to use the LDS Humanitarian aid resources of which he provided the website address to make it easier for members to do so.
As I considered the Canadian government’s willingness to double any money donated through a registered charity, I wanted to be certain that the LDS charity, of which I was assumed must qualify, indeed met the government’s regulations.
I viewed the website provided in the Stake Presidents email to the membership, but instead of immediately making a donation, I decided instead that I would `vet’ or research the charity as we do with all of the charities we have been involved with and to try to acquire more information on how the charity operates.
I simply called the number provided on the website and asked a couple of questions to the helpful LDS customer service agent. When I indicated the amount and the purpose of the donation, and asked more specific questions pertaining to the registration for charitable receipt purposes, and they found out I lived in Canada, this particular set of questions immediately pushed me far, far up the ‘chain of command’ until I was speaking to someone at a director level at the LDS Humanitarian Services in SLC (aka LDS Philanthropies). He was very helpful and I was impressed that 100% of the donations go directly to the people of Haiti (although he did indicate that this is only as a result of the administration costs being covered from tithing funds). However, when I asked further details about acquiring a donation receipt for Canada, he indicated that this is not possible, whether I used the church's website or whether I used a tithing slip in Canada. He indicated that it was his understanding that the church's charity status in Canada was such that we could only use any Humanitarian Funds for 'In Country' needs’. He thought that the any funds provided from Canadians would be held and used only for humanitarian needs within Canada. He stated that if we used the church's website to specifically donate to the Haitian cause, that they could not issue tax receipts for Canadians due to a bit of a “sticky situation” as he described it, with the rules pertaining to our humanitarian fund within Canada.
I immediately emailed the Stake President and asked him to look into this for me. It was also clear that the Canadian government would not recognize the LDS humanitarian aid as a registered charity for this purpose (as such members could not be issued charitable receipts, or at least should not be). It became obvious, very quickly that the normal members donation to specific causes within the humanitarian aid category (whether it be Haiti New Orleans, Chile etc), was quite problematic within Canada as it related to out of country funding.
In other words any members, as instructed, who had already followed the Stake President’s suggestion to donate through the church to Haiti, would not or should not receive a charitable receipt, or their actual money would not go towards poor and suffering people in Haiti. I personally considered this to be a big problem for the church. I never believed it was an ‘intentional’ issue on behalf of the Stake Presidency or the Church, however I expected that should it be at all correct or `is any of it right’ that the Stake President and the Church had a ‘moral obligation’ to clear up the matter with the membership.
The Stake President did what he could to get answers but found it difficult to get clarity, even after asking Church Headquarters. I am not certain if he ever got clarity on the issue or not, but I know that after my continual pestering on the subject that he eventually sent out another letter to the members basically absolving him or the other members of the Stake Presidency from any further questioning of the members on it and simply stating “As a presidency we are not qualified to provide tax advice and suggest that, if tax considerations are important, you consult appropriate experts for advice regarding the treatment of donations to charities based outside of Canada” Letter to members dated January 26/2010.
At no point did the President make mention of the fact that if the members stipulated ‘Humanitarian aid Haiti specific” that they may not legally be entitled to a tax donation receipt. He also did not clarify very many of the other issues that I raised with him regarding the humanitarian aid fund of the church in Canada. If anything in my opinion, his letter was confusing and simply did not let the membership clearly know the problems now discovered. I feel that the membership has a right to know more information about this type of thing when the Presidency is encouraging them to make a donation to a specific area. He did however mention in the second letter (not the first) that members could always donate using `other qualified means’. No mention of the fact that the Canadian government would not match the church’s donations because it simply was not a `recognized charity’ for this purpose.
The director which I spoke to ever so briefly was far more helpful than numerous emails attempting to get additional clarity from the Stake President ever was. I felt and feel today like the members had a right to absolute openness In regard to this type of extra-donation.
I ended up donating through a Canadian Registered Charity, The Canadian Red Cross, and I received a legal tax receipt for this donation. In addition the Canadian government matched my donation.
In this difficult but minor matter, after I brought the matter to his attention, the only concern that he stated to me was that if he informed the membership on the matter they might somehow misinterpret it. He asked me what he should do to solve this minor problem. I found this very strange considering our recent history; however my answer in a matter of a few words was simply to be completely honest and forthright with the membership to help add clarity to the situation. To let the members be aware of all the details so that they could themselves make a wise decision regarding the matter now and in the future.
In responding to him asking what my purpose in asking the question initially was, my response was this-
“Clarity on this issue was my primary concern and I think it would be wise, for leadership to be certain and completely clear to the members as to what we are using the money for. I am fearful that if some donate and then later find out that the funds cannot be used directly in Haiti that for some, this might be upsetting and I wish to prevent that type of situation from occurring.” (Personal email sent to Stake President January 20/2010)
He made an attempt to clear the matter up with the membership in the Stake in legally protective letter which he sent out, but not in the way I had recommended. He did not give full disclosure to the membership in regards to the situation he clearly was made aware. It is my personal opinion; he did so only at a level that would protect him should something come up later regarding the situation. I did not feel then, nor do I now feel as though he was completely clear regarding the ramifications of, neither of the problems that we had experienced together. Not the small one recently, or more personally affecting situation some two plus years ago. In stating this fact I realize that it likely sounds that I am accusing him of something terribly dishonest. This is not so, he is and continues to be a good man. However like other leaders in the church that I have been involved with at various levels of authority he seems to be satisfied by not completely telling the entire story in certain situations. Again, I want to be clear that this was not a huge doctrinal issue, more a minor technical detail that the membership was innocently misdirected by the Stake Presidency regarding. It was something that very few people had been aware of. However, his approach was what appeared to me to be more of the `cover your rear approach’ than one that showed complete and open honesty regarding the situation. It seemed ever too familiar to me as I thought about how he had handled my difficult and delicate situation over two years ago.
I had now seen the Stake President involved in a total of three situations which I felt questioned my definition of integrity. First, not keeping his personal word to me, under political pressure, without much justification, releasing me under questionable circumstances, second, asking that I deceive the High Counsel in telling them I was not worthy, and third and most obvious, the way in which the members money for the people of Haiti was being siphoned elsewhere........now knowingly.
A TERRIBLE TRUTH
Once this recent matter of not telling the members everything came to my attention, as I thought carefully regarding my release, I began to question how far a church leader would go to protect the name of the Church (or his own name). If they would release a good man and sacrifice so easily his hard earned reputation, would they possibly even deceive members to protect the organization? If a good, humble man like the Stake President, and I know he is a good man, could show such incongruency of character, is there something about ones experience in Church government that would make them sacrifice their personal integrity in some small manner, to protect the name and reputation of the church.
I put much thought, prayer and study into this topic. I began to research similar but different circumstances in current and previous Church history.
What I found was first shocking, then damning, then truly, truly sorrowful. I will describe a few things here but in truth, it gets much worse than I wish to discuss in this forum. I am truly sad to report, that a lack of integrity in my opinion appears to be systemic within Church Leadership. What is worse is that it is not a new phenomenon. It actually has a historical basis. Now I must state clearly that most if not all of the Church leadership today, in my opinion, keeps information from the membership that they know to be true, in an effort to protect the authority of the Presidency and Quorum of the twelve. My opinion is that they hold this purpose, portecting the reputation of the church or the ‘pr’ image as the highest priority in their calling over and above that of personal integrity (note often call it something else such as protecting the testimony of the members).
Some ex-Mormon’s are not as kind and choose to call the subject “Lying for the Lord”. Having served in Church Government and being around many amazing men whom I still love and have kindly feelings towards, I choose to call the subject “systematic deceit” which simply means were it not for these fine men’s association with Church Government, it is likely, in my opinion that they would never take part in any kind of deception of this type. Some view this as `systematic deceit’ for the `higher cause’ or in some leaders opinions, a justifiable need to meet an end. As I said there are substantive and numerous examples of this problem in current and past church history where leaders have shown to be less than truthful when it would harm the reputation of the church or if telling the `fib’ would benefit the church or member’s testimony is some way (Search on YouTube or Google for the subject entitled “Lying for the Lord if you wish). This belief is easily proven from a historical context , additionally we see subtle uses of this approach in modern day leaders well known statements such as “Some things that are true are not very useful (Boyd K. Packer), or Apostle Russel M. Nelson’s statement"Indeed, in some instances, the merciful companion to truth is silence. Some truths are best left unsaid."
I was completely and totally shocked at what I found when I began to research this issue as it pertains to this ‘new idea’ I had concerning systematic deception within the LDS organization. I did not expect to find such an amazing amount of evidence to support my question regarding this awful truth. Sadly even for me, there were brief moments when I simply wished I had not discovered these facts at all as the truth became at times rather distasteful. I researched and researched until I could barely read another line. I felt so disheartened by what I found, so disappointed.
Some of you might have heard about some of these events of what I would call `gentle deceptions’. One example of a `gentle deception’ might be, for instance the Church’s teachings on the translation of the plates by Joseph Smith as depicted in numerous LDS publication’s and photo’s for the past 150 years (where Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon using both the spirit of revelation and/or the urim and thumin with a sheet covering the plates, while they were in his possession).
The challenge with this picture is that with all of the witness’s and scribes pertaining to the translation, there is not one that describes it to have occurred this way. This `revelatory picture’ of the translation is a complete and total fabrication of the actual events. It is contrasted by what is more commonly accepted now by LDS Apostles, (see Russell Nelson’s ensign talk entitled `A Treasured Testament” at LDS.org) LDS Scholars, and anyone on either side (Mormon and non-Mormon alike) of the intellectual community regarding their complete agreement on the accuracy of the more honest version of translation.
For many LDS people the more accurate version was taught to them by the irreverent television cartoon series called “South Park”. Many members across the world did not know until that cartoon what church leaders have known for decades and they felt betrayed and angered to find that South Park was more accurate than what they had been taught for numerous years at church by their leadership.
Elder Nelson, LDS and non Mormon Scholars as well (as well as South Park) all concur with the valid testimony of numerous witnesses to the ‘translation’ (including Emma Smith, Oliver Cowdery, Martin Harris) which scholars now call ‘reading’ where according to the account by David Whitmer and again re-quoted by Elder Nelson in 1993, where states "I will now give you a description of the manner in which the Book of Mormon was translated. Joseph Smith would put the seer stone into a hat, and put his face in the hat, drawing it closely around his face to exclude the light; and in the darkness the spiritual light would shine. A piece of something resembling parchment would appear, and on that appeared the writing. One character at a time would appear, and under it was the interpretation in English. Brother Joseph would read off the English to Oliver Cowdery”.
Often the Plates were not even in the room while this occurred. This description is far more in line with the magical occult world of the early 19th century than with the more `Revelatory’ world as it has been described by the LDS Church in the 20th Century. This fact is well known by all of the leadership of the church and accepted. However if you view any Ensign or Church photo of Joseph Smith and the translation it still shows the standard Joseph, sitting at a table in front of the plates and viewing them which is the `story’ that all of us have been told of the translation since we were small children.
This, in my opinion, is a solid example of the church protecting an incorrect idea which is at the very least deceptive.
As far as historical documentation goes, whether it is Brigham Young’s revelatory statements on the Adam-God principal, or his statements on Black people or the history of Joseph Smith and alcohol, (smoking and drinking the night before his death as well as documented examples in our own LDS record showing a number of times he violated his own revelation) modern day church leaders have either completely removed information from official LDS publications (history of the church relating to Joseph Smith’s consumption of Alcohol later called ‘medicine’ instead of alcohol) or they simply stopped allowing the controversial publications from being produced for modern students of history to have access to (for instance journal of discourses). This blatant effort to restrict access to information or the simply rewrite it in further printings does not show the honesty that is being expected by these same leaders of the regular membership. Currently, access to accurate historical documentation in the church’s possession is tightly controlled for both Mormon and non-Mormon scholars alike and often it is simply denied. This practice is interpreted by objective minds as simply being a cover up and at best shows a lack of complete honesty regarding our own history.
As I indicated earlier, the examples that I am choosing to show are simply in the more mild area of deception rather than the `categorically lying’ area. I choose to use the more gentle area of deceptions that have transpired as I believe that this is far more than often what occurs. Outright lies seem to be far less of a problem. The only time the leadership seems to feel deception is appropriate is when it somehow protects the membership’s fragile testimonies.
The question that keeps coming into my heart and mind however is simply this, would God ever justify deception or dishonesty. I do not believe that the LDS God I have learned about would ever do so.
Another well documented and well known example where `stretching the truth’ is used to benefit the church, might include the `Dunnism’s of the General Authority Paul H Dunn in which it was discovered that although he told numerous stories to the contrary over the expanse of his entire church service, he never actually played professional baseball or did many of the exciting things his books and talks were inspired by. “Dunn admitted that the stories were not completely true (see LDS News) yet continued to defend his use of the stories: "I haven't purposely tried to embellish or rewrite history. I've tried to illustrate points that would create interest. [I was] simply putting history in little finer packages." Dunn compared his stories to the parables of Jesus—although they were not true stories, they were nevertheless valuable means of teaching gospel principles”. His deceptions were documented and proven by researcher Lynn Packer who was released from his position at BYU for publishing his findings. Gordon Whiting, then chairman of the BYU communications department, had warned Packer in a memo that `publication of the Paul Dunn article will damage the church, will damage the university, will damage the department and will damage you.”
When Packer, himself a Mormon, decided to release his four years of research to The Arizona Republic (rather than the LDS controlled media in Salt Lake City) in spite of the threats, he was let go from BYU for simply `telling the truth’. Whiting explained that Packer violated, "church and university policies that prohibit public criticism of church leaders”. Mormon leader Dunn as far as we can tell, was not reprimanded for altering the facts, or from profiting immensely from the `embellished stories’ but Packer was fired simply for showing that these stories were not true. Dunn was given `emeritus status’ for what the church called “health reasons’ likely as a result of the scandal.
There are many, many other more uncomfortable examples that I will not spend much time on as it is simply not going to benefit anyone’s personal belief in the truthfulness of the LDS doctrine and this is not my purpose in writing this document. My single purpose in writing is to make those who I sincerely care for aware of what actually happened to the Thompson family, why we decided; at this point well after the release, to leave the LDS Church and what our true feelings and story are.
Part of my desire to allow others to have a view into my life is due to the amount of gossip, rumor speculation and outright lies that were told about our story. Some were very, very cruel, untrue. Some members were saying terribly disgusting things about my wife. I ask any of you good men, can you imagine how you would feel if you were in my position?
Although very difficult and painful ultimately it was not my release nor the unkind former bishops or members that compelled our family to leave the LDS church. I would have stubbornly continued to be faithful.... forever!
I was a true believer.
It was however the incongruity of the Stake President’s decision that led me to study more deeply our own Mormon history and doctrine.
I fear, well more truthfully I believe that deception has been a part of LDS leadership’s history when necessary from the early days of the church. Once I had experienced, first hand what I felt was clear deception and dishonesty on the part of church officials, I began to look more carefully at the incongruence’s in other LDS doctrines and history. I also read hundreds of stories of those who honestly questioned the LDS church’s view on certain issues and what the church’s response was to kind and sincere honest and scholarly research.
The consequences were terrible for those involved. All of them felt, lied to, betrayed and many often felt simply`duped’ by Church Leaders. Could so very many of them be completely wrong for thinking this way? Is there something in the LDS people’s mindset that allows them to ignore their own Leadership’s incongruency? When someone questions the church’ history (for instance, Laminates in the America’s and with the vast amounts of evidence we find for the Bible through archeology, why is there no evidence for anything written in the book of Mormon?), the church’s reaction is often quick and terrible. These people are regularly labeled in the worst of terms (Anti-Mormon, Apostate, unworthy, followers of Satan etc) even though just as often their motivation for said research is because they simply do not believe some of the disparaging things being said about their church. Often they are researching in a sincere effort to defend the church.
In most cases the evidence and research available is overwhelmingly supportive against the Church’s position, but the individual involved is almost always censured, disfellowshipped, or worse, ex-communicated for simply telling the truth. Then they are shunned by the members for asking anything that is contrary to the church’s position.
I have literally read hundreds of terribly sad stories, of the church’s deceptive practices being brought to light and the member simply losing faith in the Church completely. This is often from humble and sincerely desiring, active members.
It is now estimated that because of recent historical documentation as well as modern day research the LDS community is now loosing approximately in excess of 100,000 members per year worldwide who are simply withdrawing their membership completely. This number is quickly approaching the numbers of children of record being added to the roles annually. The church will not publish this information so this is estimated by those who often run sites dedicated to members leaving or from those who are conducting interviews with these individuals. However that is not the biggest challenge. The biggest challenge lies at home in the United States, where Mormons are departing from the faith as fast as converts are joining.
Often these people are still active LDS members themselves interested in researching the phenomenon and trying to stop the massive exit. I did not know until recently that there are a lot more resigned ex-Mormons, un-resigned ex-Mormons, excommunicated Mormons and inactive Mormons in the world, than there are active members. These people are not leaving because of moral sins, or because of personal offence, they are leaving simply because after objectively researching the actual events of our past that they have discovered that the LDS church is not what it claims its history to be.
A most interesting LDS site which has been dedicated to research of the `resignation phenomenon’ is run by a very kind and sincere Latter Day Saint John P. Dehlin, who provides a very good presentation based upon numerous interviews and research into this subject. He runs an intriguing website that is pro-lds at www.mormonstories.org and is associated with another that he started www.staylds.com, which is dedicated to helping active LDS members; leaders and families, better understand the bases for the phenomenon and how to help those in transition with love and kindness. His purpose from the outset is to help those who are considering a departure from the LDS faith to stay and he regularly offers encouragement to do so. The site is very good at helping active LDS members understand the position of those who are departing and what their motives for doing so are.
You can view his excellent presentation on the issues surrounding this topic if you have Microsoft explorer at (right click, copy and paste into a browser or click on `open hyperlink’)
Or you can simply search under his name or the topic “Why people leave the LDS Church’ at www.youtube.com
I have now viewed hundreds of sites dedicated to the exmo (ex-Mormon) post-mo (post-Mormon), NOM (new order Mormon) etc, phenomenon. It is only his site that I feel I can in good conscience provide as a fair and kind basis for the problem from a complete and uniquely Mormon perspective without ultimately damaging anyone’s faith. He tries to be fair and honest, yet uplifting and caring.
In addition to the current exodus crisis with current membership the church itself admits that its convert baptism rate is simply plummeting. According the the LDS Church Almanac
THE WIZARD OF OZ
The above document explains what happened during my life in the church with special emphasis on the recent time-frame of service as an LDS Bishop and the two months I spent in the Stake Presidency as well as the issues surrounding my release. I have given much detail into the area that eventually led me to leave the LDS church, that of `systematic deception’; however this is not the singular reason for this decision.
It was not until my meditation and research into this area that I began to read the hundreds of stories of ex-Mormons who had left the church, and their historical, ethical and honorable reasons for doing so. This study led me to more objective historical research on Joseph Smith, the translation, the magical world of the 1800’s, Joseph’s many polygamous and polyandrous wives’ (married to other men’s wives), which the church general membership seems to know little about (yet it is clearly admitted in the lds church’s familysearch.org website, specifically located at:
Don’t worry; I am not interested in getting into any ex-Mormon rant here. I love and agree with many aspects of the LDS faith and culture. I just simply do not believe that it is the only true church, nor do I believe that its beginnings were as correct and honest as the church has led us all to believe. Actually I believe that for anyone who is willing to spend time on the internet they will find clear, convincing evidence that the church leaders of the past were involved in doing what they could to change the accuracy of historical events and that the current church leaders today are in the difficult position of either `coming clean’ and likely having a mass exodus of membership, or to continue perpetuating the deceptions of the past that are no longer so easy to keep under wraps due to publications of historical documents on the internet for millions to read. Much of this `documentation’ comes from its own publications (journal of discourses, history of the church, doctrines of salvation, etc. etc).
I believe that although many church leaders are fine individuals doing their best to lead and direct the faithful as best as they can. I do not however believe that they have any more `authority’ or privilege to the Lord’s direction, than any individual may have who honestly and humbly seeks it.
After sending this document to someone I considered to be my `best of friends’ in the LDS church and being accused of being ‘evil’, `anti-Mormon’ and for being led by `Satan’ for describing my experiences and beliefs, I have removed some parts that deal with specific doctrinal and historical issues that I have found problematic in the LDS church. There are so very many of them for anyone that wishes to have any sense of objectivity at all.
FINALLY FEELING AT PEACE
Our family is finally at peace! I can now say with integrity that I hold no ill towards anyone, I am simply happy to be free of it all, free of the things, some of which I never really believed in (some of the history and doctrine), free of the judgments of some unkind LDS members, free of having to be so unhealthily concerned with the outside appearance, and absolutely free of the time restraints of the ‘merry-go-round’ of activity required to be a good, full-time member of the church which so distracted our family from having the time together to truly connect.
Free to simply be myself.
David O. McKay, my favorite LDS Prophet once said:
“Ours is the responsibility … to proclaim the truth that each individual is a child of God and important in his sight; that he is entitled to freedom of thought, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly; that he has the right to worship God according to the dictates of his conscience. In this positive declaration, we imply that organizations or churches which deprive the individual of these inherent rights are not in harmony with God's will nor with his revealed word”. (124th AnnualConference, p. 24).
I realize that it is hard for members of the church to believe, but our family is far happier than we previously have been. Please be happy for us as we go onto this new journey.
Everyone is entitled to their own beliefs, even within the LDS church. Doctrines such as LDS exclusivity in the Celestial kingdom, plural marriage, the “abominations” of all other churches, the need for `special underwear’, the belief that God somehow judges men based upon racial background (read previous prophets on Blacks and the priesthood), blood oaths in the temple (some of which only recently was discontinued), it is fair to say I never believed in any of these. I do however believe in the principal of eternal relationships, the golden rule, honor, honesty (at all cost’s) and simply being kind.
SOME FINAL THOUGHTS
I am satisfied with the decision to honor my word by keeping the information in confidence from the previous bishop about my call. I am also satisfied that as asked, I shook things up in the ward and gave others a chance to serve, who in many situations had never done so before. One mildly odd member came up to me after my release from the Stake Presidency and thanked me saying `you were the only leader who gave me or my family a chance at calling recognition in all my years of the church’. This was for many people used to sitting in the back row an exciting time which they believe the ward was led by inspiration not politics or family names. It was also an exciting time of growth and increased temple attendance as well as spirituality within the ward. There were only a very few people who were unhappy with the wards direction, and they were powerful.
The truth is, “if” I still believed in the validity of the organization I could stand before the Mormon God and state that I had conducted myself with honor and dignity and done nothing but seeks God’s direction.
I would do it all again! It was quite the ride!
I hope you will support us in this new exciting quest as we leave the safe and comfortable `shores of Mormonism’ to go out into the ‘brave new world’ of ‘purpose filled lives’ on our own paths, our own journey.
We are quite excited about the journey that we have begun!
Please feel free to send kind or uplifting responses to this document to firstname.lastname@example.org
UPDATE November 2010.
Where have things gone since we left.
First- I would want all to know that we have not changed that much, no breaking laws, no loss of job, no wife-swapping or sinning, our value system has not changed at all, because our value system was not in conflict. Our lives are all advancing, but with a couple of differences.
Our view of God and the universe it is fair to say is in transition. We do not so much believe in an external, consequence orientated being as we do believe as many cultures and beliefs, that God is `within each of us’. I cannot yet eloquently describe this belief but I can say it is growing and we are learning. Once we left the LDS church and the clouds cleared a bit, all the pain of the experiences in the above document simply vanished in an instant. We are back to our fun-loving vibrant and positive selves, with one huge difference. We now realize that we “know” nothing. As a result we are content to spend the rest of our lives “searching”. This is so different than the “we already have all of the answers we need” approach that is part of the LDS culture. Not knowing is the most amazing and wonderful thing you could ever imagine.
We no longer view things as `right or wrong’, we simply do not see the world in these terms. We see it in view of `what brings joy’ or what helps develop inner peace’. We often think in terms of `how can we be better human beings’ than `how can we be better Mormons’
We have more time together than ever before as a family and we truly enjoy spending time together. There is nothing that can get back all of the time spent in meetings and away from the family, but we feel happy to be able to make up for lost time. We have found a few wonderful associations out in the `world’. We are yet to meet someone outside of the LDS church that we consider to be `evil’ or sinister in any way. Strangely our experience has been that the highest quality people, those with the greatest amount of love for fellowman and personal integrity, have been found in places, many within the LDS community find to be `evil’ or `sinful’ (the ex-mo community for instance).
We have learned a great deal from our time and experience within the LDS faith, and for the most part it was positive. However, we never felt like we truly `fit it’, we never felt like we were truly `Mormon’ no matter how much time we spent there, no matter how much money we gave, no matter how committed we were. I think the fairest thing I can say is that we have learned what we could there, and we are moving on to new brighter and most certainly more vibrant paths. The colors of the external world within the LDS church seem so `grey’ and muted to us now. We are so happy to see the many variations of color and wonderment available to us out in the `world’.
We are truly happy to be here, we have had so many truly enriching experiences since we have left, but we shall never forget the things we learned or the many, many amazing people we met while in the LDS community.
Sincerely Norm and Gabi Thompson