Brendan was raised in the church but from early on saw things that didn’t sit well with his soul. He recognizes many instances in his life where cognitive dissonance was telling him something wasn’t right. This led him to study deeply and even pursue a study of history, which led him to an internship with the Church History Department working with the Gospel Topics Essays. His scholarship saw through the whitewashed apologetics and revealed a “historical record of leaders creating and sustaining systems of oppression, followed by a concerted effort to distort or shelter this information” and his heavy shelf broke. He’s pressing on and continues to study the history of the church and to navigate his mixed-faith marriage. He hopes that sharing his story “will be a small step in helping people gather up their broken pieces.”
I come from a long line of mormon pioneer ancestry. I was born and raised in a small Southern Utah town, and grew up with the Church as a major part of my upbringing. Served a mission and was married in the Provo City Center Temple. I completed a Bachelor’s degree in History at Utah Valley University. As part of my undergraduate training, I did an internship in the LDS Church History Department, which served as a catalyst to my faith crisis. My spouse and I are happily navigating a mixed-faith marriage. I was a mormon.
The claim that we were the “only true church on earth” never set well with me growing up. As a young kid, my family used to take road trips across the country, stopping at national parks and historical landmarks along the way. One year, I remember stopping at the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee and experiencing a major moment of cognitive dissonance–on one hand, I abhorred racism and systems that excluded others based on their differences, and yet I realized that my own Church had deeply rooted exclusionary beliefs (i.e. “we’re the one and only”, etc).
This cognitive dissonance would stick with me all the way into my mission, when I was tasked with convincing others that their religious or cultural beliefs were not “true”. This never set right with me either, and I probably wasn’t the best missionary because of it. I met so many good people from different walks of life and quickly realized, again, how harmful exclusionary beliefs can be.
Upon returning home from my mission in 2014, the Church came out with its infamous November policy targeting LGBTQ+ families. They announced children could not be baptized in these households unless they disavowed the same-sex marriage of their parents. This was soul crushing to me–I had a deep level of empathy for these families, and was once again confronted with the exclusionary policies and beliefs of my own Church. I put this on the shelf, as I had done before, and continued to grapple with my changing perspective.
About a year later in 2015, I had a close family member leave the Church due to historical concerns. History has always been something that I gravitated towards, and Church history was one of the only spaces I believed, at the time, I could truly feel the spirit. I was puzzled and confused why this family member would leave the Church over something I found so inspiring. It also troubled me to see how they were treated by those around me–again, because of exclusionary beliefs.
About three years into my undergraduate studies in college, I decided to take an internship in the Church History Department with the Gospel Topics Essays to confront some of these historical issues head on. I thought (naively) that if I could understand where this family member was coming from, maybe I could bring bring them back into activity. However, it was during this internship that I learned the full, unfiltered history of the Church for the first time.
I thought I had known Church History, I studied it extensively in college and throughout my life. I had used Church approved sources and stayed away from “anti-Mormon material”. But I began to realize there were certain areas of history that had been withheld from me–critical areas. The full extent of Joseph Smith’s polygamy and polyandry rocked my testimony, the full context surrounding the Church’s black priesthood ban was tough to swallow, and the more unfiltered history I researched in this position, the more I came to realize how “man-made” (not “God-made”) the Church really was.
The non-whitewashed version of Church history that I learned as an intern revealed a historical record of LDS leaders creating and sustaining systems of oppression, followed by a concerted effort to distort or shelter this information from its membership. It was at this point I realized I could not continue to support a machine that had harmed so many people in the past, and continued to harm others today. I could not continue to hold up a man-made organization with deep flaws as God’s “One True Church.” My shelf broke.
I was fortunate to have the sympathetic ear of my spouse, who chose to love me for me, and not merely for my Church membership. Coming from a space where I once felt I had all of the answers, it was difficult for me at first to get comfortable saying “I dont know.” However, I began to realize that no one has the answers and the most important thing I can do is focus on living in the here and now. Little by little, I began creating my own meaning in this life.
I’m sharing my story not because I’m still angry at the Church or because I want to tear people down. I’m sharing my story because I know there are thousands of people in my situation. People who feel hurt, unheard, or broken. I hope my story will be a small step in helping people gather up their broken pieces. I know that’s what other people did for me when my shelf broke–I hope I can be there in a similar way for others.Brendan
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