MY DISENCHANTMENT WITH CHURCH
As long as I can remember, I was always rebellious against what I felt was unjust coercion, but I feel it was not until my mission that I started to come into conflict with authority.
At points I felt that missionary managers did not care about me or the other missionaries. At one point, crying on the mission president’s shoulder, I said, “All I want is to know that someone cares.” This was my own personal gethsemane that helped me feel the atonement working in my life and to feel Jesus’s love when I felt no one else cared for me. My mission president often described a mission as “a wonderfully awful but an awfully wonderful experience”. It definitely was for me. I had firsthand experience of the pain of mission politics and the abuses of power within a vertically structured organization.
When I heard John Dehlin’s podcast about his mission in Guatemala, about baseball baptisms I realized that there were similar stories, by others, of problems where people felt that ecclesiastical power was being abused and regular missionaries were being ostracized or punished for “objecting to unjust authority.” We have all heard Lord Acton’s maxim,
“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
I firmly believe this and have witnessed it in myself and in others.
Coming home from my mission I set myself goals to learn more about church history as a matter of faith mixed with curiosity and enjoy my mission for what it was. However, and I humbly admit, that I had the opportunity to visit with various bishops and councillors quite frequently over the next few years to resolve issues that had cropped up. I noticed that some were very humble and kind whilst others were more dictatorial and autocratic. The autocratic leaders made me realize that I was being too naive in trusting my spiritual wellbeing with these types of men, that I was perhaps too honest, and that I was going to repent so I would be able to get out of there as soon as I could.
During this time I read MANY church books that an orthodox mormon would call “anti-” but I found them historically accurate and fairly honest. I spent all my spare time, in a 2 year period, reading through church history books by anyone I could get my hands on and realized that the faith promoting Mormon history I was used too was biased, propagandized and most importantly didn’t tell the whole story. During this crisis of faith and sense of betrayal I also lost a faithful Mormon girlfriend who was worried about the information I was reading and I made my family worry. In my books and attempts at resolving my dissonance I read Michael Quinn’s “Mormon Hierarchy” series and was flummoxed about ecclesiastical power abuses in the history of the church from Joseph Smith to Ezra Taft Benson. My heart went out to those who suffered abuse by men in power as I empathized with them.
D&C 121 reads:
39 We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion.
It seems Lord Jesus Christ agrees with Lord Acton…or should it be vice versa.
For the time, I am unable to stay in Eden after eating of the bittersweet fruit of Mormon History. I choose to stay in the church and consider myself Mormon though I have unresolved doubts that plague me daily and I stay as committed as I can. My journey seems to be leading me to help those who are suffering and oppressed. I wonder whether this is the right journey but I find meaning and hope in it. I still choose to face Eden and my heart aches to return and meet others there when people, like myself, who have eaten this bittersweet fruit, learn how to illuminate the pathway back to religious certainty.