1321-1327: The Excommunication of Mormon Bishop Sam Pinson and his Family in Ammon, Idaho
June 9, 2020
Every once in a while we have an epic, multi-part Mormon Stories Podcast episode about a family who experiences a faith crisis together — wherein multiple family members (including some of the children) participate in the re-telling of the story.
This is one of those episodes.
Sam and Sara Pinson were living the Mormon dream: raised in the LDS Church, married in the LDS temple, etc. Sam obtained his “dream job” working 5 years for Microsoft, and later left Microsoft to start his own business. The Pinson dream culminated in Sam and Sara moving to Ammon (Idaho Falls), Idaho, wherein Sam was called as a Mormon bishop. Everything seemed perfect – except it wasn’t.
Their teenage daughter, Olivia, was questioning both the church, and her sexuality.
Their son, Sam Jr., was suffering with Scrupulosity (religious OCD)
And both Sam and Sara were beginning to question their Mormon faith while Sam was serving as bishop.
Today’s episode tells the story of how a devout Mormon family in Ammon, Idaho, led by a Mormon Bishop, can end up losing their faith in Mormonism in 2020. It also includes a full recounting of how Sam began to speak openly about his struggles with the church after losing his faith – leading to threats and ultimately a disciplinary council/excommunication. And yes, Sam recorded and is now sharing here the full audio of his excommunication (Part 6).
Sam’s wife Sara, along with two of their brilliant children – Olivia and Sam Jr. – also participate in this super-thoughtful story/discussion.
You will not be disappointed in this episode. HUGE thanks to Sam Sr., Sara, Olivia, and Sam Jr. for their willingness to join us on Mormon Stories Podcast and tell their epic story.
NOTE: Sam’s essay entitled “How to not apostatize from the LDS church” – which is referenced during this interview – is included at the bottom of this blog post.
Part 1: The Pinson Family Lives the “Mormon Dream.” Sam is called as Bishop.
Part 2: Cracks Develop in the Faith of Several Pinson Family Members.
Part 3: How a Mormon Bishop and His Family Lose their Faith in Mormonism.
Part 4: Sam and Sara Speak Openly on Facebook about their Loss of Faith. Their Mormon Leaders Threaten Excommunication.
Part 5: The Pinson Family Describes Their Mormon Disciplinary Council and Excommunication.
Part 6: The Recording of the Pinson Family’s Mormon Disciplinary Council and Excommunication in Ammon, Idaho – Recorded May 31, 2020.
Part 7: Final Thoughts from the Pinson Family about their Excommunication, and about Mormonism.
Part 1: The Pinson Family Lives the “Mormon Dream.” Sam is called as Bishop.
How to not apostatize from the LDS church
By Sam Pinson
I received a letter informing me that on Sunday a “membership council” (formerly, “disciplinary council”) will be held “on my behalf”. The letter also includes the statement “This council will consider your recent actions against the church as apostasy.” Sounds like a forgone conclusion. I’m invited to attend and give my response. No, thanks. I’ll give my response right here. In fact, I’ve already given it several times:
1. Faith cannot be at odds with the truth (Alma 32:21)
2. If faith is ever at odds with the truth, then it is the faith that must change, not the truth.
3. Thus, I cannot destroy faith by making true statements.
I’m no more guilty of apostasy than the current church is against the church of yesteryear. The church is built on a fraud. The core is rotten. The church has made and continues to make many positive changes, but none of that will ever make its truth claims true.
Anyway, having been charged with apostasy, I expect that I am soon to have my membership withdrawn (formerly “excommunication”) “in peace and love” in order to “help [me] in this matter”. I thought I would share some advice on how to avoid apostasy. I can be an anti-example for any who never want to find themselves in my position.
Let’s set the stage: I’m not inexperienced and unknowledgeable about the church. I followed the church’s program with complete devotion from birth. I attended Primary, YM (serving in all the Aaronic priesthood quorum presidencies), and early morning seminary (for 5 years, because my father was the teacher and I enjoyed it so much). I memorized all the Scripture Mastery scriptures. I served a full-time mission for the church in Rostov-na-Donu, Russia. I graduated from the LDS Institute of Religion and Brigham Young University (where I took additional religion classes). I married in the temple. I was ordained a high priest at the age of 23. I served in a high priest group leadership. I served as an early morning seminary teacher for 5 years in Washington state. I’ve served on the high council twice. I served as a bishop in Ammon, Idaho. I was all-in, 110%. Until I learned the truth.
Your experience and mileage may vary. What follows is based on my experience and observations. It includes criticism and is full of sarcasm.
1. Stay super busy doing church work. Don’t set boundaries on what the church can take from you. Say yes to everything. This will suck away any time and energy you might otherwise devote to apostasy.
2. Don’t think critically. Don’t think deeply about the implications of, for example, the fact that the Book of Mormon treats the Biblical story of the Tower of Babel as a literal event, but the scientific evidence overwhelmingly contradicts this idea. Or, for example, the fact that Joseph Smith used spiritual manipulation to secretly marry a 14-year-old (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Helen_Mar_Kimball). Avoid being confronted with these issues, and if you ever are confronted with them repeat this mantra, “God will sort it all out in the end.” Or “I’ll understand that in the next life.”
3. If you do have concerns/questions, fake it until you make it, or talk privately with your bishop or stake president (who won’t have any satisfactory answers, because they don’t know the issues and will show a fantastic lack of curiosity about them). Whatever you do, keep your concerns to yourself. Don’t speak about them openly. Don’t criticize the church, its leaders, its teachings, or its history. If you don’t give voice to a question/concern, it’s almost like it doesn’t actually exist.
4. Remember that there are primary questions and secondary questions. You must first decide that the church is true due to warm fuzzies and then approach all the “secondary” questions. This approach lets you dismiss all disconfirming evidence and ward off doubt by repeating “I may not know everything, but I know enough.” Be sure to arrive at this conclusion before considering secondary questions such as “Why do adherents of other religious faiths, with mutually inconsistent beliefs, also all claim to have spiritual witnesses that confirm that their beliefs are true?” Dismiss that question immediately if it does pop into your head.
5. Only read “official” (whatever that means) faith-promoting church sources. This is tricky, because what used to be preached from the pulpit in general conference is no longer faith-promoting. Cling to the false idea that anyone who leaves the church suddenly becomes a compulsive liar and cannot be trusted. Believe that if the church didn’t publish it, then it can’t be trusted. Most of the current content on the church’s website is scrubbed and whitewashed enough to promote faith, but not all. For example…
7. If you do read the gospel topic essays, don’t read any responses from the church’s critics (for example, the annotated essays at https://www.ldsdiscussions.com/).
8. Don’t read FairMormon.org. FairMormon is a website for LDS apologetics. It is 200% pro-LDS, but reading this will expose you to additional faith-destroying facts. You will see that the weak, illogical, and straw-grasping apologetic arguments are crazy mental gymnastics. You’ll realize that there actually aren’t adequate answers/explanations for the problems with the church’s truth claims. You’ll realize how much the church has been hiding from you. You’ll see the sharp contrast between the absurd mental gymnastics required to maintain an informed faith on the one hand versus the simplicity and consistency that emerges when you let go of the premise that the church is true. You will be at high risk of apostasy if you become conscious of this.
11. Avoid topics, evidence, and content that challenge your beliefs. You may notice an unsettled feeling when a core belief is challenged. Interpret this as a spiritual warning that you should avoid that evidence. Don’t interpret that feeling as simple cognitive dissonance or mental/emotional discomfort with the idea that you are wrong. Immerse yourself in topics and content that confirm your beliefs. Surround yourself with people who share your beliefs. Distance yourself from others.
12. Never entertain a critical thought. It’s not your place to “steady the ark” (a helpful gesture by Uzzah that merited instant death). If there are problems in the church or its current leaders, wait on the Lord, i.e. you need to wait for several more presidents of the church to die before someone progressive enough to make a change gets installed as president of the church. Silently tolerate fraud, lies, gaslighting, bigotry, polygamy, polyandry, racism, sexism, abuse, gay-bashing, spiritual manipulation, shunning, shaming, etc. God will sort it all out in the end. Despite the evidence to the contrary, it isn’t outside pressure that effects change in the church. Church leaders act only when God reveals to them that it is time to act, not a moment sooner.
13. Remember that you are always the problem. If something about church history or doctrine doesn’t make sense or seems immoral, you just aren’t seeing the big picture. Why would Joseph Smith marry other men’s wives and lie about it to Emma, the general membership of the church, and the world? God works in mysterious ways. His ways are not your ways. Bothered by the fact that Joseph Smith lies about his treasure digging in the official history of the church? Don’t seek to counsel the Lord. If you are unable to get your questions/concerns resolved, you must be living in sin.
14. Never try to understand disaffected members and apostates. Think of them as evil, lazy, and/or deceived. Cling to the false idea that they wanted the church to be false, that they were just looking for an excuse to leave. Never acknowledge any validity in any of their arguments/concerns. Don’t engage in discussions with them. Unfriend or block them. Don’t listen to the experiences of others who have left the church. For example, avoid https://www.mormonstories.org/. Don’t interact with people who have been harmed by the church (assuming such people exist).
15. Don’t value truth above all else. Leaving the church is not easy. Your risk of apostasy is lower if truth is less important to you than family relationships, friendships, cultural identity, or simply not making waves.
16. Fear what might happen if you did leave the church. There are real potential consequences. Divorce, damaged and lost relationships, depression, anxiety, etc. The church plays up and exploits these fears, because they may keep you in the church if you are tottering. If you leave the church, there is a good chance you and your children will become violent drugs addicts that will go around raping everything. Do you really want that for your children?
If your hope is to never apostatize, I hope these tips will be helpful.
When I am excommunicated on Sunday, it will be because I told the truth, and the truth is poison to the church. I’m very comfortable with that. I will join the ranks of some pretty amazing people: