I left the Mormon church in 1958, when I was 25 years
That was a long time ago: David O. McKay was the prophet,
seer and revelator. There were only eight temples, and none of
them owned a movie projector. Every ward had its own meeting
house, Sunday school was at 10:30 a.m, and sacrament meeting
was at 7:00 p.m. There were no black people in the church (at
least none were visible). Garments were in a single piece. The
temple endowment ceremony still had the death penalties, the
minister, the five points of fellowship. The Book of Abraham
papyrus scrolls were still missing. New missionaries learned
the language of the country they were assigned to by arriving
there two weeks early.
Why, after all these years, would I still be concerned, then,
about Mormonism? Why have I not yet come to terms with that distant
part of my past and left it behind?
There are several reasons:
First, I am descended from a long line of faithful Mormons.
All of my ancestors in every branch of my family, for four, five
and six generations, were Mormons. The Mormons and their history
are my heritage. It is my only heritage. It is where I come from.
None of my Mormon ancestors were great or famous, but I have
read their stories, and they were good people. They were faithful,
hard working, and deserving of my respect. The history of my
family is inevitably intertwined with the history of the Mormons,
their migration to Utah and the settlement of the mountain West.
I cannot ignore Mormonism and Mormon history without forgetting
Second, my family are still faithful Mormons, almost all,
including my parents, my brothers and sisters, my older children,
my grandchildren, my nieces and nephews. Their lives are permeated
by their Mormon beliefs. Their day-to-day existence is intertwined
with the activities of the busywork-making church, their friends
are all Mormons, their hopes and fears are Mormon hopes and fears.
I cannot ignore Mormonism without ignoring the lives of those
Third, the Mormon church is becoming more prominent and more
powerful in our society. In my state (which, unlike Utah, is
not thought of as a "Mormon" state) it is now the second-largest
religious denomination. Our present U.S. Senator is a devout
Mormon. Mormons are occupying influential positions in our state
and national governments far out of proportion to their population
in the United States. The church has become a mega-wealthy financial
enterprise, with billions of dollars worth of money-making businesses
and property all over the country - a fact of which most non-Mormons
are unaware - with wide-ranging (and usually unseen) influence
on many aspects of American life. Its income has been reliably
estimated to be millions of dollars per day, not only from its
thousands of businesses but also from its faithful members, who
are required to donate a minimum of ten percent of their entire
income to the church.
The Mormon church boasts of its rapid growth. This growth,
in addition to its stance in favor of large families, is because
it maintains a large voluntary corps of full-time missionaries
who are a well-trained and thoroughly indoctrinated sales force
whose sole purpose is to bring more people into the church. Their
goal is not to convert, but to enroll, not to enrich lives, but
to baptize, not to save sinners' souls, but to enlarge membership
rolls. This missionary force is not directed by caring clergymen,
but by successful businessmen, because the Mormon missionary
effort is a business, and a very successful business, when judged
by business standards.
But the ultimate goal of the church, as stated publicly by
its early leaders Joseph Smith and Brigham Young (but not mentioned
so publicly by more recent Mormon leaders), is to establish the
Mormon Kingdom of God in America, and to govern the world as
God's appointed representatives. The church is already influential
in the making of secular policy, as was proven not so long ago
when the Equal Rights Amendment was defeated with decisive help
from the Mormon church.
To me, the possibility that the Mormon church might control
America is a frightening prospect.
Those are some of the more important reasons why I am still
vitally interested in Mormonism and the LDS church.
Mormons will tell you that Mormonism is a wonderful way of
life, bringing happiness in this mortal existence and, if we
earn it by our faith and obedience, ultimate joy (and "power
and dominion") in the next. The promises and hopes it gives
to its believers are very attractive and inspiring. Why, then,
did I reject that? Here is the story of my own particular journey
through (and, eventually, out of) Mormonism.
My Mormon childhood was very happy, with loving and nurturing
parents and family. We were "special" because we had
the "Gospel," meaning Mormonism. In my small town in
southern Idaho we Mormons easily were the dominant social and
political group. We felt sorry for those not so fortunate, for
whatever reason, that they were not blessed with the gospel.
Our lives centered around the church. We had perfect attendance
records at all our meetings. We studied our lesson manuals. It
was a wonderful life. Wonderful because we had the Gospel, for
which we thanked God several times a day, in every prayer and
every blessing pronounced over our food.
We Mormon teenagers participated in school activities, of
course, with non-Mormons, but we also had our own church-sponsored
events, which were just as good, or better. Really good Mormon
teenagers did not date non-Mormons, because of the danger of
"getting involved seriously" with a non-Mormon, which
would lead to the tragedy of a "mixed marriage" which
could not be solemnized in the temple, and which would thus ultimately
mean the eternal loss of the possibility of entering the highest
degree of heaven, the celestial kingdom. None of us dared to
So my high school sweetheart was a good and faithful Mormon
girl. We fell deeply in love and were devoted to each other without
risking any immoral physical activity beyond long kisses and
hugs (no touching of body skin or of any area below the waist
or around her breasts, etc.). When she graduated from high school
and I was in my third year at Brigham Young University, we two
virgins got married in a beautiful ceremony in the Idaho Falls
temple, and started to have babies. We were the ideal young Mormon
I enjoyed my four years at BYU, being surrounded by devout
fellow- students and being taught by devout and educated teachers.
One professor of geology was also a member of our ward. I was
just learning about the age of the earth as most geologists taught
it. I asked him one Sunday at church how he reconciled the teachings
of his science with the teachings of the church (which said that
the earth was created about 6000 years ago). He replied that
he had two compartments in his brain: one for geology and one
for the gospel. They were entirely separate, and he did not let
the one influence the other. This bothered me, but I didn't think
more about it.
After my graduation from Brigham Young University I was offered
a scholarship at Northwestern University to work on a master's
degree. So my young wife and I with our two (at that time) babies
moved to Evanston, Illinois, and for the first time in my life
I was surrounded by non-Mormons. I was the only Mormon in my
university program. This did not intimidate me in the least.
I felt that I was intelligent enough, knowledgeable enough about
religion, and skillful enough in debating skills (I had been
a champion debater in high school) to discuss, defend and promote
my religion with anybody. I soon found takers. Since it was no
secret that I had graduated from BYU, many of my fellow graduate
students had questions about Mormonism. They were friendly questions,
but challenging. For the first time in my life I had the opportunity
to spread the gospel. It was exhilarating. We had some wonderful
discussions. Even my professors were willing to listen, and so
I educated my linguistics professor about the Deseret Alphabet
and my German literature professor about the similarities between
Goethe's worldview and Joseph Smith's.
Some of my fellow students, however, had tracts and other
literature about the Mormons which they had obtained from their
own churches. They asked me questions that I was unable to answer
satisfactorily because they were based on facts I was unfamiliar
with. I had never heard about the Danite enforcer gangs, about
the Blood Atonement Doctrine or the Adam-God Doctrine. Where
did these horrible allegations come from?
I realized that in order for me to defend Mormonism I would
have to know what its enemies were saying about it, so that I
could be prepared with the proper facts. I had never been an
avid student of the history of the church, although I had earned
the highest grades in the third year high-school seminary course
in church history. I mean, what was there important to know about
church history, beyond the story of how Joseph had his visions,
got the plates, translated them, and how Satan had persecuted
the Saints until they got to Utah? I was more interested in doctrine:
the Truth, as taught by the prophets. The Truth, eternal and
But now I began to read church history, both the authentic
histories published by the church and the awful lies and distortions
published by its enemies. How different they were! It was almost
as if the authors in each camp were writing about different events.
And the university library, where I spent a good deal of time,
seemed to have more of the latter than the former.
After one year I got my master's degree in German and accepted
a teaching job in Ogden, Utah. We returned to Zion and had our
In Ogden I encountered for the first time the writings of
the Mormon fundamentalists, who believe that Joseph Smith and
Brigham Young were true prophets, but that the church since then
- especially since the abandonment of the practice of polygamy
- is in apostasy. At the time I was studying the doctrines and
history of the church extensively, and it seemed that the fundamentalists
had a lot of historical information that was not otherwise available.
For instance, they relied heavily on the Journal of Discourses,
a multi-volume work containing practically all the sermons preached
by the church leaders in the first thirty or forty years after
coming to Utah. Many years ago, I learned, every Mormon home
had a copy of this work. But then the church leaders decided
that it wasn't necessary for the members to have it, and ordered
all copies to be turned in. It became a rarity. Why? Every anti-Mormon
work I had read relied heavily on quotations from the sermons
in the Journal of Discourses. But the present-day church leaders
almost never referred to it. Why? It bothered me, but I put the
While I was living in Ogden, a fundamentalist publisher brought
out a photographic reprint of the entire Journal of Discourses,
in hard binding, for $250. If I had not been a poor schoolteacher
I would have bought it, because I yearned to be able to read
the wise words of the early leaders. But the question of why
this work was suppressed by the church still bothered me. I put
the thought aside.
One of the accusations made by anti-Mormon works I had read
was that Brigham Young had taught that God had revealed to him
that Adam was, in fact, God the Father. To substantiate this,
they quoted Brigham's sermons in the Journal of Discourses. If
only I could check for myself! I was reminded of a strange comment
made after class one day by Sidney B. Sperry, the BYU professor
and authority on Book of Mormon and Bible studies. I had taken
a Book of Mormon class from him, and admired him greatly. One
day he said mysteriously to a small group of students who had
stayed after class, "I think, when you get to the Celestial
Kingdom, you may be greatly surprised to find out who God really
is!" Wow! That implied that Dr. Sperry knew some secret
that not many people knew; that we students didn't really know
all there was to be known about this; that the prophets had not
told all. What could that secret be?
As I researched this more, and found again and again the same
words quoted from Brigham Young's Journal of Discourses sermons,
it began to fit together: Adam was really God!
After two years teaching high school in Zion, I was offered
a scholarship to continue my graduate studies in Baltimore. We
accepted. Again we were surrounded by Gentiles, and again I had
a large research library available.
Certain events in church history really began to bother me.
Why had Zion's Camp failed? Why had the Kirtland Bank failed?
Both of these enterprises were organized for the benefit of the
church by God's prophet, who promised that they would succeed.
It was difficult to avoid the conclusion that God was not doing
much to direct the affairs of his church. And, as I thought about
it, the same could be said for the experiments in the United
Order (holding all property in common), plural marriage, the
Deseret Alphabet - all projects begun with great promise, directed
by God's anointed leaders, and all of which failed and were soon
abandoned. It bothered me, but I put the thought aside.
What began to bother me most was that the church did not seem
to be telling the entire truth about many events in its past.
The evidence I read seemed to leave no doubt that the church
had encouraged, if not organized, the enforcer gangs called the
Danites or the Avenging Angels. Too many independent and primary
sources testified of their activities. At that time in my researches
the true story of the Mountain Meadows massacre was becoming
known, an atrocity which the official church history passed off
as the work of Indians, whereas it was becoming clear that the
primary blame was on the church. The massacre itself was bad
enough, but to me the subsequent whitewash by the church was
worse, so far as the divine nature of the church was concerned.
It bothered me, but I put the thought aside.
Among the papers of my grandfather, who had served a mission
to England in 1910, I found a number of tracts and pamphlets
that he had used on his mission. One was the transcript of a
debate in 1850 between John Taylor (then an apostle, and on a
mission in England) and a Methodist minister. Among the topics
discussed in the debate was the rumor, common at the time, that
the Mormons were practicing plural marriage. Taylor vigorously
denied the rumors as a vicious lie, and firmly asserted on his
honor that Mormons were good monogamists. At that very time,
however, Taylor himself was married to twelve living wives. All
of the top men in the church also had multiple wives at that
time. How could a prophet of God lie so blatantly? It bothered
me, but I tried to put the thought aside.
The Adam-God problem continued to occupy my mind. I finally
decided to try to settle the matter. If the doctrine were true,
I was willing, as a faithful member of the church, to accept
it. If it were not true, I needed some explanation about the
apparent fact that Brigham Young (and other church authorities
of his time) vigorously taught it. So I composed a letter to
Joseph Fielding Smith, whom I respected very much, and who at
the time was the Church Historian and the president of the Quorum
of the Twelve Apostles. If he would only answer my letter! I
spelled out to President Smith my dilemma: the evidence seemed
to be clear and uncontroverted that Brigham Young had taught
that Adam is God the Father. But the present church does not
teach this. What is the truth?
I secretly thought (and perhaps hoped) that President Smith
would write back and say something like: "Dear Brother,
your diligence and faith in searching for the truth has led you
to a precious secret, not known to many; yes, you can be assured
that President Young taught the truth: Adam is our Father and
our God, and the only God with whom we have to deal. The church
does not proclaim this precious truth because we do not wish
to expose the mysteries of God to the mockery of the world. Preserve
this secret truth as you do the secrets of your temple endowment."
I received a short and clear answer to my letter from President
Smith. It was quite different from what I had expected. He wrote
that such an idea was unscriptural and untrue, and completely
false. He did not deal with the evidence that Brigham Young had
taught it. He ignored the whole problem as if it didn't exist.
It bothered me, but I tried to put it out of my mind.
At the time I was auditing a class at the university in the
history of philosophy. It was fascinating. I had no idea that
ordinary human beings had given such thought to some of these
questions. It occurred to me that my religion had plenty of answers
and explanations, but it provided those answers without even
really realizing what the questions were. The answers my church
gave seemed rather flimsy and superficial, not even dealing with
the really basic problems. I was introduced to the study of ethics,
and was surprised to find the same thing: my religion, which
claimed to be the ultimate, final and complete answer, was not
even an introductory primer to the great ethical problems with
which great thinkers had been dealing for hundreds of years.
However, I remained a faithful member of the church, fulfilling
all my church obligations, attending meetings, observing the
Word of Wisdom, wearing my temple garments. But I was struggling
mightily to reconcile the church's inconsistencies, lies, and
dubious past with my faith in its divinity.
It was at a single moment one day in the university library
when I was pondering this problem. I was suddenly struck with
the thought, "All of these problems disappear as soon as
you realize that the Mormon church is just another man-made institution.
Everything then is easily explained." It was like a revelation.
The weight suddenly lifted from me and I was filled with a feeling
of joy and exhilaration. Of course! Why hadn't I seen it before?
I rushed home to share with my wife the great discovery I
had made. I told her what I had learned: the church isn't true!
She turned away and stomped up the stairs. She refused to
accept anything I said critical about the church. It was the
beginning of the end of our marriage.
I tried to continue my church responsibilities, primarily
as ward organist. But I found it more and more difficult to sound
sincere in public speaking, public prayer, or participation in
class discussions. During the next summer my wife took the children
back to Utah for a visit, and I felt it was silly for me to continue
to wear the temple garments. And why shouldn't I have a cup of
coffee with the other students, or have a glass of wine at a
party? I had never tasted coffee or alcohol in my life, but there
was no reason now, I felt, to deprive myself of those pleasant
things. The next year was an armed truce in my marriage.
My wife left me suddenly, with no warning, taking the children.
Her friends at church helped her escape, and she returned to
Zion and divorced me. A last-ditch attempt at reconciliation
failed when she said that her return would be conditioned upon
my returning to the faith. I realized that I could not do it,
however much I wanted to keep my family. Of course she got custody
of the children. She remarried four years later, her new husband
a faithful priesthood holder whose wife had left the church.
(How ironic, that a church which places such a high value on
family ties actually destroys the very thing it claims to promote!)
In the years since leaving the church I have never regretted
my decision for a moment (other than the fact that it caused
me to lose my wife and children). Subsequent study has given
me a hundred times as much damning information about the church
and its history as I had at the time of my original decision
to leave it. Many Mormon friends and family members have tried
to convince me that I made a mistake, but when I insist that
they also listen to what I have to say about my reasons for believing
the church to be false, they soon abandon the attempt, even though
I assure them that my mind is open to any evidence or reasoning
I may have overlooked. They are convinced that I apostatized
because of sin, lack of faith, stubbornness, pride, hurt feelings,
lack of knowledge or understanding, depravity, desire to do evil
or live a life of debauchery. None of those reasons is correct.
I left for one reason, and one reason only: the Mormon church
is not led by God, and it never has been. It is a religion of
100% human origin.
My wife believed, I think, that since the church had taught
me to be honest, loving, faithful, hard-working and a good husband,
my leaving the church would mean I would soon become just the
opposite. She was probably not alone in believing that I would
soon be a shiftless, godless, miserable bum, dead at an early
age of syphilis and alcoholism.
However, my life since leaving the church has been a rich
and rewarding one. I have been successful in my profession. I
married a lovely girl with beliefs similar to mine, and we now
have two fine adult sons whom we raised with no religious training
whatsoever, and who are as admirable human beings as one could
ever want their children to be. We have prospered materially
(probably more than most of my good Mormon relatives), and our
life has been rich in many other ways as well, rich in good friends,
in appreciation of the beauty to be found our world. We have
explored all the intellectual and spiritual riches of our human
heritage and profited from it all.
And as I am getting older I also realize that I have no fear
of death, even though I have no idea what to expect when it comes.
In that regard I find I am unlike many Mormons, who are desperately
worried that they have not been sufficiently "valiant"
in their devotion to the church to qualify for the Celestial
Kingdom. Again, how ironic it is that a church which begins by
promising its members such joy and happiness actually causes
them such worry and despair!
I am still proud of my Mormon heritage. I still enjoy doing
genealogy work (I have more complete records than most of my
Mormon family members). I still love to play and sing some of
the stirring old Mormon hymns. I still keep a good supply of
food on hand. And I still believe in eternal progression: things
just keep getting better and better.
As a postscript: Apostle Bruce R. McConkie admitted that Brigham
Young did teach that Adam was God, and that the church has indeed
lied about its own history. He says that Brigham Young was wrong,
but he has gone to the Celestial Kingdom; but if you believe
what Brigham Young taught about that, you will go to hell. The
fact that the church can put a "positive spin" on these
admissions is truly mind-boggling. - Click here to write to the
© 1998 Richard Packham
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