Stories of Community Health


Matt Hammond

I’ve always been a student and avid reader of church history. I became aware of several contentious aspects of LDS history as early as my freshman year at BYU, including Adam-God teachings, post-manifesto polygamy, and contradictions in teachings and sayings by successive church leaders, to name a few. This was immediately prior to my two year mission and admittedly, caused much confusion and distrust towards my LDS leaders during my mission service and after. However, because I gradually became aware of things over the following 15-20 years, I was slowly inoculated, such that I was still able to compartmentalize those issues separate from my traditional faith.

Unfortunately, there came a time around five to seven years ago when I finally lined up all the inconsistencies I had accumulated over time, which resulted in a personal crisis of faith. The nuances of that crisis are too complex to explain here, but suffice to say, I really struggled to reconcile my traditional faith with the obvious contradictions in our LDS theology, history and culture. I’m convinced part of the reason stemmed from not having a community where I felt safe to express my concerns, save a very small pool of family and one or two close friends.

When I discovered Mormon Stories, I discovered a relief gasket for all the pressure that had been building up for years. I finally found a community I could relate to and trust, which allowed me to explore a lot of the ideas I developed during my spiritual isolation period, and grow from sharing in the thoughtful dialogue of those who allowed free flow of thoughts and ideas.

I admit, that through the Mormon Stories Community, I discovered even more facts that contributed to my cognitive dissonance. However, the community included thoughtful and credible experts, like Richard Bushman, Terryl Givens, Gregory Prince, Michael Quinn, and others, whose contributions actually helped me reconstruct my faith in a way that allows me to hope and continue as a temple-recommend holding, believing member. The caveat is it required an almost complete reconstruction of my faith with new paradigms.

I’m a better person for my faith reconstruction, and I would never trade my new world view for my old world view, and I believe this is a direct result of the Mormon Stories community. I still wake up some mornings wondering whether I believe anything, so my journey isn’t over. I can’t promise where I’ll be in the future, but I hope to be a faithful part of an active LDS community that promotes open and honest introspection, and compassion towards those who doubt, especially when the doubt is the result of an honest desire to increase ones understanding of LDS beliefs and culture.

In retrospect, I can conclude that while LDS historical contradictions caused me faith struggles, the single largest frustration was mostly in the official LDS Church attitude, denial, and vilification of these challenging historical issues, and of those who share and inquire about them. Additionally, the unofficial incumbent and mainstream LDS culture, which is blissfully unaware of most challenging historical problems, also treats honest inquiries and discussions about these faith challenging issues with disdain, leading to the unnecessary and tragic marginalization and vilification of those who experience doubt and faith crises.

John Burlison

I was excommunicated by the LDS church 30 years ago. I started attending again in November 2011. Mormon Stories sparked my return to church. In the fall of 2011, I attended two Mormon Stories conferences: the DC Regional conference and the “Circling the Wagons” conference for LGBTQ persons. At both conferences if felt welcomed and a part of a warm, loving community.

At both conferences speakers mentioned that the members of the LDS church need to see and hear the stories of their brothers and sisters who were experiencing or had experienced crises of faith. I thought and prayed about returning to the pew on Sunday. Although I am long over the bitterness I felt over my excommunication, the pain can still be very real. On the other hand, I truly missed my community of faith. I wanted to worship with my people again.

I have a story to tell. I believe that the LDS wards and branches need to see their LGBTQ members, to see the enormous burden those members bear. I believe that LDS wards and branches need to love those members in an unconditional healing way that will lift a burden of misunderstanding, pain, and alienation. All to often LGBTQ members are kicked out of their families, their chapels, and their faith. It’s a devastating loss – a stunning fall from grace.

I came back to the pew because I love the members of the LDS church, and I invite them to love me. We can bind up the wounds of prejudice and bigotry. We can make the burden light, one member, one branch, one ward at a time. I never would have know or understood that without the love and wonder of Mormon Stories.

Christina McClendon

Mormon Stories helped save my life. My name is Christina (Tina Prince) McClendon, and this is my story. After being the perfect example of a young LDS girl, attending church every week, going to seminary (scripture study) every day before school, dressing modestly, speaking appropriately, and even bringing my friends to investigate our church, I wanted more. I wanted to become a scholar of all things LDS at the young age of fifteen. However, after about 2 years of study, prayer, and a spiritual confirmation of my decisions, I could no longer believe in the absolute truth of the church. My swift departure at seventeen almost ruined the relationship I had with my family, my dad being a member of the Stake Presidency and my extended family being the LDS dynasty of our town. The break even severed ties with many friends and extended family who were LDS. I felt alone and misunderstood and was accused of disreputable moral choices just because I no longer believed. I reached out to many people for help and understanding, but no one could or would help me. This was in the late 80’s. Just a few years later, my parents and some siblings also left the church, along with some extended family which caused many LDS members to blame me for their actions.

I went on to study religion for years after that, attending and researching many different religions trying to find “the truth” for me. To my surprise, many years later, I came across Mormon Stories run by my close friend to whom I once turned for help. He was talking about me, and how he felt when I wrote to him with my questions and my concerns about the church, and how he didn’t handle my doubts so well back when I first confided in him. Since then he had created a group for people who had questions or needed support so that they would have a safe place to go. I have always known my friend to be a seeker of truth, and a kind-hearted, loving man who looks to help others. And, here he was speaking about how LDS members could really be there for those who are struggling with their testimony or have chosen to leave the church. It was as though after all these years, someone finally understood me and respected my choices and honored my decision. I sat there and cried. I had no idea that he had spent years of his own time and money to support those like me and be a beacon of hope to others like me who followed the scripture of Moroni, “…and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.” I did ask, and my answer was that the church and its claims were not true.

Today, I still have family members and some friends in the LDS church. But, I had not followed the recent statistics of people leaving the church, or who were dissatisfied with church doctrine or history. Not until recently, did it even occur to me that my story could be helpful to others in any way. I have spent many years limiting my interaction with LDS members not really knowing how to fit in again. Last month, my parents and I had the opportunity to share our stories with the Mormon Stories group. It seemed to help many of the attendees and give them hope. It was the first time after almost twenty five years that I ever spoke about my feelings in public. It brought up a lot of emotions for me, and I felt vindicated. Here was a group of people who understood me, who love the community and culture of the church but find issue with the doctrine or history of the church. They all gathered to support each other whether they are members or inactive members or non-members. The experience I had with the Mormon Stories group was so profound and beautiful; it is one I will carry with me forever.

So yes, Mormon Stories saved my life. I would have been able to “live” without Mormon Stories, but having this group in my life opened my world to an instant circle of friends who value my choices and understand my background. Mormon Stories allowed me to speak about something that has burdened my soul for many discontented years. The release of negative energy after sharing was cathartic. After the conference, I was inspired to write my story at length for future publication, finding the courage at last to talk about the events, the consequences, and the amazing peace that I have found through leaving the church and following my own path. If only Mormon Stories had been available to me so many years ago, it would have given me a safe outlet to voice my concerns and have a loving group available for support. All I can do now is to actively support Mormon Stories for those who are in need, to gratefully pay forward the “life” they have saved.

Shara Anderson

My individual experience with Mormon Stories and Mormonism is far from over. A few years ago (newly married and living in Utah) I became conflicted with a lots of things that I “thought” the LDS church taught and how I saw it practiced. Church attendance for the first time became a chore and hurtful. No amount of actively participating in church involvement would help ease the conflict I felt. For the first time I felt more peace, understanding and love away from the Church. At that time I hoped that it was just matter of location and not a church-wide feeling. (Not that I have a thing against UT, it’s just I hadn’t felt that feeling growing up in CA, and it was easier to blame it on the location instead of my growing awareness.)

A move out of state and closer to our active LDS family, we participated in new wards and still peace did not come. To be clear the historical issues within the church was not, and is not, my main concern. While history is messy, and at times ugly, I felt that if the current fruits of the Church were good I could happily stay. However the points that brought the greatest amount of sorrow and hurt were the message I heard. The “us vs them” statements (where “us” is only those within the LDS faith), the way singles within the church are treated, pressured and pushed to the outside (I have siblings and friends who are singles and “older” in the church and it hurts to hear their experiences), the continual second-class standing of women in the church, the degree of fear and hate being generated towards the LGBT community, the secret side of the tithing and church finances, the messages given that encouraged judging others based on arbitrary “standards,” and then the lack of Christ-like messages preached and taught. I wanted to hear more loving words spoken, I wanted to hear more compassion preached, more understanding, and it just wasn’t there. In any other organization I could just say well no community is perfect, but within the LDS community you are often taught that “people aren’t perfect, but the church is” and I just couldn’t believe that anymore. I soon realized that when my husband and I decided to have children I didn’t want to raise them in a community like this, and that was painful. I loved my childhood in the LDS church. I love the traditions I had in my family growing up within the safe (yet confining) walls of the LDS community. My family and I moved often when I was young and the church was so consistent and stable for us. I mourned the idea of giving that up, because I knew that no matter how I tried I would still be pretty Mormon at the core, and then I found Mormon Stories.

Mormon Stories helped my to understand that just because I couldn’t accept the things that were painful within the LDS church and community I don’t have to give up my Mormon identity. I don’t have to leave it all behind. My husband and I feel much more free to live Mormonism and be a part of the community on our own terms. Thanks to the many stories and amazing support from M.S. community I felt free to take the best things out of Mormonism and make them my own. I feel now I can truly “bear one another’s burdens,” “comfort those in need of comfort” and “mourn with those who mourn” without any stigmas attached. For the first time Forever Families can include everyone I love in my family with no fear of separation. I can finally find the Divine in all things, after all the Book of Mormon, whether historical or not, shares that “everything which inviteth and enticith to do good, and to love God, and to serve him is inspired of God,” and for the first time I believe that. I feel a great amount of peace, love and compassion in my life and a greater hope for my future and for my family’s future. Of course not all the tension is resolved, I don’t think it ever could be, but I am spiritually and mentally learning and growing more than I ever believed I could.

All this because I heard voices. These voices shared beliefs similar to my own, as well as beliefs that were wildly different than anything I’d ever thought of before, and they were shared with love and conviction. Some of these beliefs seemed impossible within the confines of the LDS faith but here they were claiming a Mormon identity and sharing them! Even when I didn’t understand or relate I enjoyed their stories and it caused me to think, discover and listen to my own convictions, some may say my own personal revelation. I began to understand my own story and deepen my own faith. A faith more like the faith that Alma teaches, not a perfect knowledge, but rather a hope. And what I hope for is God’s love and believing that He is love and anywhere love is then He is there too. I feel more at peace, more whole and closer to the Divine in many ways. It is a beautiful and wonderful thing that Mormon Stories does for every one within Mormonism.

Steven Hopkins

My name is Steven Hopkins, and I found Mormon stories because I was interested in listening to Richard Dutcher’s story. I listened to all ten? hours of that interview and began to really appreciate how complicated being a Mormon (both culturally and spiritually) really can be.

I have always had a feeling that there was a discrepancy between the simplicity of the gospel as taught in the church and the real-world messiness of it. I have always felt that I was a little bit different from the rest of the Mormon community, but I always just thought it was because my Dad wasn’t a member and because I was only semi-active for most of my youth. The first cultural Mormons I interacted with were my fellow Elders in the MTC and it was a huge culture shock. So I never had any reason to think it was anything other than that.

However, listening to Mormon Stories, and also John Dehlin’s Facebook posts and the presentations on “Why Mormons Leave,” I have started to find of sense of identity of how I fit into the Mormon community. I am an academic by trade, and have worked hard to learn how to critically engage with the world and ask questions. I have found in Mormon Stories a sense that I am not that only one who is like this. There are other Mormons who ask hard questions and still stay active and retain their testimonies, or even have much stronger testimonies than before.

The Mormon Stories podcast has challenged my faith, and I have gained a stronger, more nuanced, and I believe more beautiful testimony of the gospel because of it. Not only that, but I have found that as I break down the black-and-white-ness and see the world and the people in it as more complicated and messy, I find it easier to love and care for others. I have a much smaller need to condemn others and myself for not being perfect. I understand that I am a sinner, just like everyone else, and have a deep need for a Savior.

I’ll be honest and say that I don’t recommend Mormon Stories to just anyone. There are hard truths to deal with in them, and not everyone is ready for them. However, those that are, like myself, benefit greatly from hearing other Mormons honestly dealing with these issues and figuring them out.

Brooke McLay

Mormon Stories helped me honestly look at my faith issues and confidently come to my own conclusions about the LDS Church truth claims by presenting fair, balanced views from people and professionals both within and without Mormonism. It connected me with a community of “saints” similarly struggling, willing to offer support, and able to extend true empathy and compassion throughout my faith transition.

Mormonism is both a tremendously fulfilling and totally disturbing faith tradition. Bring raised Mormon, I was surrounded by loving, supportive leaders, teachers, and friends. There are deeply satisfying social connections, and many opportunities to discover, develop, and enhance spirituality, service, self-development, and self-discipline. However, many of these things are developed under the belief that there is “no other way” to happiness. For me, there was an underlying belief that diverging from obedience to any LDS doctrines meant God would remove his love, punish me, and take away the light of his guiding ‘spirit.’

When I began having “cracks” in my belief, I was terrified of the consequences. I was literally incapable of believing people outside of Mormonism could possibly be living fulfilled, happy lives. So ingrained was the myth of Mormonism in my mind that I spent nearly 6 months barely able to crawl out of bed when I realized it may not be what I’d always been told it was.

Those were dark, lonely times. There is little space within the Mormon community to open, honest discussions or questions of faith. When I discovered Mormon Stories, I felt as if I’d found oxygen again. I could breathe. There was space to ask questions, there was space to draw my own conclusions. There were people just like me. There were a multitude of paths opened, with an underlying message that I really had the strength within myself to choose the path best for me. I’d never before been told that I could be trusted to decided, I’d never before been surrounded by people cheering me to make whatever decision worked best for my life–regardless the decision. There was patience, love, honest discussion of tough issues, positivity, gentleness, compassion, goodness. The entire non-angry, honest, and thoughtful approach to the subject of faith concerns through the Mormon Stories lens was a balm to my very weary soul. The fact that it drew together a community was icing on the cake.

Today, I have been a personal recipient of so much goodness from Mormon Stories. Not only as a listener empowered by the podcasts and presentations, but as one privileged to share my story (a vital part of owning my new understandings), and connect with hundreds of generous souls who quite literally rescued my husband and I as we worked through the loss of a job due to our faith transition. My life has very much been enhances and richly filled by the information, honesty, and community that is Mormon Stories.

Chase Barlet

Though the catalyst that ultimately led to each of our departures from Mormonism was different, Mormon Stories has helped me and my family members together come to grips with feelings of disappointment, betrayal, and heartbreak to leave the church in a healthy, comforting way. Mormon Stories has helped us realize that those of us who question or leave the church are not just an insignificant, obscure group isolated to anonymous web-sites in corners of the Internet. Rather, we are all people, people with families and lives and dreams, who simply want to understand more about our faith and make sense of it.

Though I was wholly firm and unwavering in my reasons for leaving Mormonism, Mormon Stories allowed me for the first time to finally feel my feelings were acknowledged, validated, and understood by others in the same position. When you leave Mormonism, you often feel that those still in the church treat you so contrarily to how they attempt to convey themselves. It can start to drive you crazy, as if you feel that you are alone; no matter how genuinely you try to reach out and explain the issues that are hurting and confusing you, you so often feel met with only half-hearted apologetics, indifference, dismissal, and judgment. As I have visited Mormon Stories, however, I finally feel listened to, even by members still in the church, which is all I’ve ever wanted from my LDS friends. I simply want to be heard, genuinely and without ulterior motives. Feeling misunderstood is often so much worse than whatever challenged your faith, yet most LDS members do not seem to understand this. Worse, they often do not seem to care, and this perceived self-righteousness only exacerbates the rift between us. What paralyzes my relationship with so many LDS family and friends is not the specific reasons for our disagreements, but the refusal on their part to listen, acknowledge, and validate me as I do them.

So often when you leave the church, you hear people say that it must be in part because the commandments and rules were simply too hard and that the person who left is just too weak. I politely voice my dissent. Generally, Mormons seem to have a lot less trouble with the principles of obedience than they do with Christ’s simple commandment to love one another without qualification or conditions, a commandment that is too often dismissed as if it is just a copout clung to by the “weak” in light of all the other expectations. As a result, it is as if those who perceive themselves to be righteous find ways to rationalize, justify, and convince themselves why they are not clearly living one of Christ’s only spoken commandments without qualification. Yet what gets to me is knowing that Mormons rarely treat those outside their faith with scepticism, apathy, and fear, so why treat fellow members who have chosen to leave the faith in such a way? I often feel that the reaction from family members and friends in the church is often so ironic and hypocritical to the very Christ-like attributes they cite to justify themselves. The lack of empathy WILL be lethal. Mormon Stories has helped me, and all of us who rely on it, to recognize that this reaction is sadly too typical, and thus is perhaps more of a systemic and institutionalized problem, and one that with genuine effort could be improved.

To me, Mormon Stories presents an opportunity that the current atmosphere within the LDS Church simply does not do: the ability to have a real, honest, and frank discussion without pretence. No labels, no hierarchy of superiority; just real people, treating each other as such, demonstrating and showing the care and love they claim to have. After all, words that sound inviting and unthreatening mean nothing when accompanied with an active reluctance and refusal to discuss issues, which is so often the case on the part of the LDS. As long as those who question and find themselves confused continue to feel that their trusted leaders and friends so decidedly heap the blame onto them, they will remain alone and misunderstood. Mormon Stories is an opportunity to reach out and offer validation to every person and their story and actually mean it.”

Matthew Nokleby

I was on my way out of the LDS church when I discovered John Dehlin’s Mormon Stories. I had already passed through my crisis of faith, but I was still hungry to understand my religion from the outside. At the same time I was beginning to talk to my still-believing wife about my desire to leave the church. Needless to say, it was a complicated time in my life.

Initially I went to the podcasts to learn more about Mormon history. The first podcast I listened to featured Darius Gray, a prominent black Mormon, who discussed the racial restriction of priesthood in the LDS church. I found the discussion to be thoughtful, detailed, and even-handed. Although I no longer believed, I appreciated John’s openness to faith-affirming perspectives on thorny historical or doctrinal matters, even as he insisted the facts be laid out first. Mormon Stories podcasts became my go-to source for the “straight dope” on Mormon issues.

Since then it has become much, much more. John’s balanced approach meant that my wife was willing to listen to the podcasts with me. They’ve helped us to maintain mutual respect in spite of our differences. She came to appreciate the reasons for which I had apostatized. I was reminded that there *are* good reasons to believe in Mormonism. It’d be an overstatement to say that Mormon Stories saved our marriage, but it has been with us every step of the way.

Mormon Stories has also become community. Through Facebook groups, local meet-ups, and conferences, I’ve regained in Mormon Stories a sense of belonging that I lost when I left the church. I’ve learned that, while I’m unlikely ever again to believe in the truth claims of Mormonism, I can still mine my faith heritage for goodness and truth. Finally, after a few years of denying the label, I can claim my “Mormonism” in a healthy, sustainable way that I doubt I would have found without Mormon Stories.

Sarah Trottier

My name is Sarah Trottier and I am only twenty-years-old. Perhaps my spiritual journey’s destination is to be included with the rising generation that is more and more so favoring secularism and non-religious approaches to life. But I don’t know yet, I haven’t gotten that far; I admit that I don’t know too many things about the world in general, but there are three things I know for absolute certain.

First, ‘Us vs. Them’ mentalities don’t strengthen a religion, but rather tear it slowly and painfully apart from the inside. It hurts families, marriages, friendships, and humanity in general. Loving people—all people and accepting them for who they are in their own journey is quite a beautiful concept, but is something I fear will the LDS church will never adopt. Their continued apocalyptic attitude towards the world and the beautiful people who populate it will eventually become my undoing. I don’t know how many more years of my life I can dedicate towards superiority over other people.

Second, I love my culture, my upbringing, and my traditions. I was raised in the heartland of Mormonism (Orem/Provo) with my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins all extremely close to me. When I think of my Mormon tradition—the first thing that pops in my head is my family and my memories with them. I think of gathering with my 50+ cousins and stuffing ourselves with treats my Grammy made, I think of playing dress-up with my girl cousins, I think of the thousands of sleepovers we must have had, I think of my cousins explaining to me that their parents said that the wine talked about in scriptures was actually just grape juice or that the Indians in America used to be Lamanites. My Mormon thought is all deeply rooted in my family whom I love dearly, but who now sometimes use me as an example of a path not to take—of a person not to become.

But that painful concept brings me to my last thing I know for absolute certain: I now have the courage to become me, the person I actually am because of John Dehlin and the Mormon Stories podcast. It has introduced me to intellectual Mormon thought, feminist thoughts, the concept that I’m not alone in being unorthodox, and to just see the actual beauty of Mormonism and the various ways that other people interpret it and live it. I would not be living my life with the same degree of happiness and assurance that I can and will be able to move forward in my life to discover the core of who I actually am. I’m no longer afraid of the consequences or what my future will entail.

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