My parents and siblings (seven girls, two boys) converted from Anglicanism to Mormonism in 1970 in Sydney. My parents were committed Anglicans and our family were taught the discussions for nine months before being baptised. My father was soon called into senior leadership positions (bishop, stake presidency). All nine children married in the temple and my brother and I and most of our brothers in law have served in bishoprics and/or stake presidencies. My sisters have all served in senior auxiliary leadership. Mormonism was woven into the fabric of our family. A steady stream of marriages, births, baptisms, missions, ordinations, senior callings etc bound our family life with the church.
I was 10 years old when our family joined the church. I didn’t particularly enjoy attending the Anglican church, and since I enjoyed being around the missionaries and my (assigned) LDS friends, I was very happy to be baptised. I enjoyed the youth program, went on to serve a mission in Melbourne in 1981-3 and married Jane about a year after my return. We have five grown up children. Jane and I both studied at the University of Sydney. Jane completed a teaching degree before we married and now teaches English at a Canberra high school. I completed a PhD in plant science in 1989, when we had three children, and worked for most of my career in the field of forestry molecular genetics at CSIRO, Australia’s national research organisation.
What parts of the Mormon experience were most important or useful to you?
Mormonism was a huge part of my life as I grew up. I was a very active member. I attended all church meetings and was heavily involved in weekly youth activities, early morning seminary, dances, conventions, sports, scouting etc. All of my immediate family were fully active and married in the temple. The church was the focal point of our lives.
What doctrinal or theological parts of Mormonism did you believe that were most important to you?
I had a firm testimony that the Mormon Church was the only true church. This belief was based on my unshakeable belief in latter-day scripture and living prophets. My belief in all other uniquely LDS doctrines and ordinances (eternal marriage, priesthood, baptism, etc) were built on my foundational belief in the truth of LDS scripture.
What spiritual experiences did you have as a Mormon that sealed your orthodox commitment to the church?
By nature, I have always been a fairly emotional person and, due to church teachings, I was convinced the strong feelings I experienced at church were the Spirit. Consequently, I believed I regularly felt the Spirit when people spoke at church, my leaders bore their testimony, when the prophet spoke and while I read the scriptures.
How did you lose your faith in Mormonism?
My faith crisis occurred in August 1998 after experiencing a brief, but intense, period of cognitive dissonance. I was a bishop at the time. Until I went to sleep on the 2nd August I had a firm testimony. When I woke the next day I knew, with absolute certainty, the church wasn’t true. This unconscious epiphany occurred after a couple of weeks of study and serious reflection.
A few weeks earlier I read an article in the Ensign on the Flood and the Tower of Babel, written by a professor of Hebrew at BYU named Donald Parry. Parry claimed that Mormons who doubted the reality of the global Flood, misunderstood the relevant science. It turns out Parry had not studied science beyond high school.
I was extremely uncomfortable with the Church’s leading magazine pushing what is essentially Young Earth Creationism. I knew from my own research that plants and animals have evolved over millions of years. Evolutionary theory is the central binding principle of modern biology. It is simply impossible the genetic diversity we see on the planet today derives from plants and animals rescued on a boat 4,500 years ago. Today, virtually all of the geologists and biologists at Brigham Young University believe the earth is 4.6 billion years old, life has evolved over the last 4 billion years, and that there has never been a global flood.
Consider the Flood from an Australian perspective. Our flora and fauna has evolved in isolation for many millions of years. The 800 species of eucalyptus trees in Australia evolved over the last 40 million years. Almost all eucalypt species do not survive prolonged flooding. Koalas cannot survive more than a few days in the absence of fresh eucalypt leaves. These are the tip of an ark-load of problems that prove to any rational adult there was never a global flood.
My frustration at this article led me to search the internet for LDS scholarship on the nature of the Flood. During this research I stumbled on a Smithsonian statement on the Book of Mormon. As a seminary student I had been told the Smithsonian used the Book of Mormon in some of its research. The Smithsonian statement, which was routinely mailed to inquiring Mormons, completely rejected any connection between the Book of Mormon and American prehistory.
Alarmed by the content of the Smithsonian statement I began looking for research that supported the belief that Native Americans have Jewish ancestry. During a period of about two weeks I retrieved about 30 research papers on the DNA of Native Americans. I was deeply shocked by what I discovered. This research showed conclusively that essentially all Native American DNA is most closely related to the DNA of Asians and that they lack any Middle Eastern DNA. Today the data is far more overwhelming and it supports the same conclusion.
Returning to the evening of 2nd August 1998. We gathered our children for family prayer and sang Book of Mormon Stories with them. I became deeply upset as we sang. Deep within me I knew we could never sing this song again because of what I knew. I knew the Book of Mormon wasn’t true history. I went to bed a believing, but very confused Mormon bishop. When I woke up my entire worldview had changed completely. The cognitive dissonance that I was being tormented by had vanished.
What parts of Mormonism were harmful to you?
I think the most harmful aspect of Mormonism is that it cuts you off from the real world. Growing up in the church we were constantly told the world was evil and getting worse, and that our generation of Latter-day Saint youth was the most special to come to earth. As young priesthood holders we were also taught we had more authority to act for God than the Pope. This us vs them messaging, which is reinforced in every General Conference, affected the way I looked at non-Mormons and the rest of the world.
Australians tend to view Mormonism as a weird cult, so I felt further alienated from many of my non-Mormon friends. I was relatively shy so I kept my beliefs to myself when around non-Mormon friends in order to avoid being teased. While the social aspects of the LDS Church were incredibly important in my life, there is no doubt my relationships with non-Mormon friends during my youth and at university were significantly impacted by my membership in the Mormon church. Being a fully active Mormon with a dim view of the world made developing meaningful relationships with people outside of the church very difficult.
How do you now explain the spiritual experiences that you had as an Orthodox Mormon?
I had many “spiritual” experiences as a Mormon and was often moved to tears when listening to my ward and stake leaders or the prophet speak. But even when I was a fully believing member I had come to recognise that the feelings I felt at church and the feelings I felt in settings outside of church were indistinguishable. To this day there are many things that deeply move me and even bring me to tears.
Human beings are emotional creatures. These emotions are critically important for forming and maintaining tight family bonds, close relationships with friends and for our survival in social groups. Millions of people in most religions experience these same feelings and many are convinced they come from God and confirm their church is right.
It has been liberating to shed the false belief that the Holy Ghost speaks eternal truth directly to a person via their emotions.
What was transitioning out of Mormonism (or Orthodox Mormonism) like for you? What was most painful about it? What was most healing or joyful about the transition?
The most painful part was losing the respect of virtually all of my church friends and family. The LDS Church provides a safe environment for its members, but this comes at the expense of shutting out people who make them feel uncomfortable. It’s extremely difficult for Mormons and former Mormons to talk to each other about the church without feelings being hurt.
The most joyful part of leaving the church has been discovering that the world is not as evil as the church makes out. According to many important metrics, it is actually getting better. There are plenty of genuinely good and honest people who have no faith at all. Because our lives are no longer completely absorbed with Mormonism we have had time to develop numerous friendships with non-Mormons. These friendships are simpler to maintain because they are built on mutual respect. We have also formed very close friendships with many other former members of the church in Australia and around the world.
In what ways did church leaders or members make your transition more difficult?
The worst thing they did was to direct me to LDS apologists for answers to my questions. These men do more damage to the church than anyone else. Several weeks after I resigned as bishop, my stake president put me in touch with Warren Aston, an LDS apologist who lives in Brisbane. He believed Aston could help me find answers to my DNA questions. Aston alerted LDS apologists at BYU to the existence of an Australian bishop who had lost his faith in the Book of Mormon because of DNA. From just weeks after resigning as a bishop, I have been treated as an enemy of the church.
Were there church leaders or members who were helpful to you? If so, how?
I can’t remember any.
What resources were most helpful in your transition out of Mormonism?
We left the church in Australia in 1998. Apart from a small amount of information on the Internet, there were few resources to help with our transition.
Soon after leaving the church I became concerned about the way LDS apologists (scholars who defend church beliefs) and church leaders were misrepresenting or playing down the significance of the DNA research. The destructive personal attacks of Mormon apologists and their strained reinterpretations of the Book of Mormon to accommodate the science, prompted me to post a personal story of my encounter with the DNA science in 2000 and to eventually write Losing a Lost Tribe: Native Americans, DNA and the Mormon Church, which was published by Signature Books in 2004. In my recently published book, The Sacred Curse, I review the latest DNA evidence, and how the Book of Mormon has been used to erase the true history of Native Americans and Polynesians. In the last decade scientists have scoured the genomes of thousands of Indigenous Americans and Pacific Islanders for their ancestral origins. Not a trace of pre-Columbian Middle Eastern or Jewish DNA has been identified.
What significant mistakes did you make in your transition?
The biggest mistake I made was to assume that because I believed I had compelling reasons to doubt the historical authenticity of the Book of Mormon, that my extended family would be interested in knowing about it. Virtually all family and friends, who up until then had respected me, showed little to no interest in understanding why I resigned. It appears the only evidence they needed that I was wrong was the fact that I had resigned. Not surprisingly, given the absence of honest communication, false rumours about why I resigned soon spread around the family and the church locally.
The biggest mistake I could have made, but didn’t, would have been to stay in the church as a non-believing member. I would have been treated like a leper and gospel doctrine would have been the definition of hell.
How has your leaving Mormonism affected your family relationships, friendships, job, neighbor relationships, social life, etc.?
Within months of leaving the church I was offered a research position at CSIRO and we moved to Canberra. After several years of part time work Jane became a full time teacher. We have both enjoyed slotting back into the real world after years of feeling alienated from within Mormonism. We have plenty of good friends who like us just the way we are. We have also formed many close friendships with other former members, several of whom we knew when we were active in the church. These friends include several former bishops and stake presidency members and some members of our extended families.
It is difficult to maintain close relationships with most believing family members who clearly don’t respect our decision to leave the church and who know with absolute certainty they are right. True friendships are built on mutual respect and open communication. As a result, my relationship with several family members is now largely superficial. This is not helped by the fact that we live quite far from most of our family.
Two of the greatest gifts we have received from leaving the church have been the opportunity to help two gay daughters navigate their way into adulthood free of Mormon homophobia and ignorance regarding same-sex attraction. This transition is very challenging, even in a civilised society, but it has been a positive experience in our lives that has drawn us all closer together. I cannot imagine how we could have safely navigated this process within the Mormon Church.
How have you navigated communication and relationships with believing family and friends? Any tips to keeping those people in your life?
I don’t have any amazing insight into how to protect family relationships. All families are so different. In my case, relationships with believers benefit from not discussing Mormonism and other potentially contentious issues such as climate change, vaccines, politics, gay marriage and religion in general. But at least we have the weather to talk about. 🙂
Which (if any) of your former Mormon beliefs/behaviors have you retained after your faith crisis?
I have retained no beliefs/behaviors unique to Mormonism.
In what ways have your beliefs/behaviors changed after your faith crisis?
I have no religious beliefs, and my family and I are perfectly content being irreligious. I thoroughly enjoy two day weekends. In contrast to the US, where about 40% of the population attends church weekly, in Australia its less than 7%.
I realise many Americans consider atheists to be about on par with pedophiles, but that’s because many Americans hold on to the delusion they are God’s chosen country. A high proportion of the populations of the most developed countries in Europe and Asia, including Australia and New Zealand, have no religious beliefs at all, yet these countries are far kinder socially than the US. Fortunately, a rapidly growing number of Americans (about 30% and climbing) are leaving religion behind and are discovering non-believers can be good, honest and happy people too.
What are your thoughts/beliefs now about God and Jesus?
I believe Jesus Christ was probably a real person and a lot of what he taught is of value. But that is the extent of it.
All Abrahamic religion is based on the writings of very intelligent Semitic men, sitting in their tents with lots of time on their hands, trying to work out the meaning of life. These ancient Jews discovered they were God’s chosen race. Isn’t that a remarkable coincidence? If you have any doubt about their intelligence, consider this fact. Jews make up about 20% of Nobel Prize winners, yet they only represent 0.3% of the world’s population.
How do you now make sense of death and the afterlife?
Death happens to us all and it is a sad reality of life. That is why we should make the most of the life we have now.
Without the church telling you what is “right” and “wrong,” how do you establish your own sense of morality/right/wrong?
If you need religion to tell you what is right and what is wrong, then you haven’t learnt to think for yourself.
One of the most powerful myths religions impose on their followers is the idea that religion is the source of all moral values. The LDS Church has followed, rather than led, major advances in social values in the US (and world) during the last century (racism, women’s rights, homosexuality, gay marriage, etc). It would help if the church was right a bit more often and hadn’t lied about its history for many decades.
If you are in any doubt about the complete disconnect between religion and moral values, take a look at the top 20 most secular countries in the world; countries where weekly church attendance is typically less than 10%. They include countries like the UK, France, Germany, Sweden, Denmark, New Zealand, Australia and Estonia. All of these countries have strong social support networks for the most vulnerable members of their societies. They all have universal health care because they care for the poor and needy. You don’t need religion to be good.
Do you still value “spirituality” in your life (spirituality defined as “connection to something bigger than yourself”), and if so, what are your main sources of spiritual fulfillment?
I never cease to be amazed by the beauty and wonder of the world. That’s why I have always enjoyed the outdoors and visiting areas of natural beauty. I also enjoy going for long cycle rides with my friends. Fortunately, because we live the “bush capitol” of Canberra, this allows me to cycle regularly past sheep paddocks and beautiful natural forests. This keeps me healthy and happy.
The US and Canada are also blessed with amazing natural scenery, and I have thoroughly enjoyed visiting numerous national parks with Jane, exmormon friends and work colleagues.
To what extent have you found healthy and meaningful community to replace the role of the ward/stake in your life?
I have filled my church time with more time with family and socialising with non-Mormon friends from work and my cycling community. My forestry workmates share my love of the outdoors and passion for science. Increasing numbers of my closest friends these days are people who have left the church. Without exception, these people were once seriously committed members. These friendships are particularly deep because we have all experienced the trauma and joy of going through a faith transition.
What meaning and purpose does life have to you now that you no longer believe in Mormonism?
My life is far more meaningful because I am in control of it. I am far more connected to the world I live in. Our children are all adults now and I enjoy our family relationships free of the judgment that is so common in LDS families. They are all growing up to be positive contributors to society.
I take pride in the work I have done to expose the true origin of the Book of Mormon. This has involved thousands of hours of careful research. For almost 30 years I ignored the truth scientific research has revealed about the true ancestry of American Indians and Polynesians. For 200 years Mormons have viewed these indigenous people through a racist 19th century lens. This racism has caused enormous harm to indigenous members as they have had to endure the erasing of their cultures by the church. This still goes on.
Indigenous members throughout the Americas and the Pacific are still being taught they are descended from Book of Mormon people. This robs them of their connection to their true culture. God did not curse their ancestors with a dark skin nor is a dark skin a sign of a curse! This racism needs to end.
If you are a parent, how has losing your faith in Mormonism affected how you parent?
To be honest, it hasn’t really had that much impact, other than giving me more time with my family. To find out if that is a good thing you would need to ask my kids. 🙂
If you are married or have a significant other, how has leaving Mormonism affected this relationship?
Leaving the church almost always places strain on relationships. This is frequently because those relationships were formed while under the influence of the church.
Jane and I made the journey out of the “Mormon mindset” at very different speeds. I’m far more willing to try new things than Jane. I had my first cup of coffee and tried my first drink after a few days; Jane took about five years. This somewhat trivial difference in behaviour, to some extent, reflected our different way of dealing with the absence of the church in our lives. After five years we separated for about a year, but we have been happily reunited for the last 15 years. We now both enjoy sharing our morning coffee and the occasional glass of wine with dinner.
How has leaving Mormonism affected your mental health?
Cognitive dissonance is a mental health disorder. I suffered some degree of cognitive dissonance my entire life in the church. Even as a youth I was not oblivious to the fact that there were other explanations for many of the things I learned at church, but I chose blind faith. All of these conflicts were resolved the moment I knew the Book of Mormon wasn’t true history.
How has leaving Mormonism affected your sexual health?
Jane and I never allowed the church to stick its nose that far into our relationship, so leaving the church has had no impact.
A wise bishop once shared with me his advice to members asking whether this or that sexual activity was “appropriate”. He would tell them he didn’t care what they got up to in the privacy of their own bedrooms but to use common sense. “If you don’t feel comfortable doing something then stop it!”
This bishop and his wife (Terry and Brenda), and the entire families of their four sons, all left the church about 10 years after us. We are now close friends for life.
What aspects of your life are better after Mormonism?
Apart from strained family relationships everything is better. All of our family has absolutely no regrets about leaving.
What is your life still missing? In what ways could your life still be improved without Mormonism?
My life could be improved by the leaders of the church telling the truth about why people are leaving the church. They consistently reinforce the view that people leave the church because they are weak and gave into temptation. This is a lie. People are leaving because the leaders have consistently been dishonest.
What final advice would you give folks who are transitioning?
Take things slowly. If you have a partner still in the church take things even more slowly. Don’t try to force your views on others. Just because you have made the most important discovery/decision of your life, do not assume other believers will want to know all about it. It’s best to assume that most of the Mormons you know will not want to know about why you are leaving the church.
When I first left the church marriage breakdowns were far more common. The membership is very slowly becoming aware of the fact that very good people are leaving and they have valid concerns. I also believe the work that John Dehlin and others have done over the years has played a major role in helping people to navigate their way more safely out of the church. I believe this is saving many more marriages these days.
Be assured, your choice to leave the church is the right one. The Book of Mormon and the Book of Abraham are the scriptural foundation of the LDS Church. There is clear evidence both are fraudulent.
Book of Mormon:- Over a century of comprehensive archaeological, anthropological and genetic research has found no trace of Middle Eastern migrations to the Americas prior to Columbus. The Lamanites don’t exist.
Book of Abraham:- Smith’s translation of Facsimile 1, which is instantly recognisable to any Egyptologist, is completely wrong, as is the rest of the “translation”.
Nothing else comes close to undermining the truth claims of the LDS Church than the obvious fact that its defining scriptures are not what they claim to be.
If you have remained active or semi-active in the church as a non-believer or semi-believer, why do you remain active? What have been the hardest parts about remaining active? How have you made it work? What have you enjoyed about remaining active?
I rapidly lost interest in being an active member after learning the church wasn’t true. Spending time with my family in national parks and at the beach was far more appealing.
Note: This post is part of the THRIVING Beyond Orthodox Mormonism project. See here to browse other profiles. To submit your own THRIVE profile, click this link.