John was a golden convert. He found comfort in the certainty. He also found the authority of the church exacerbated his anxiety into a real OCD and religious scrupulosity. The high-control authoritarian system was incredibly unhealthy for him throughout adolescence and a mission. John acknowledges that some may blame his OCD, but he knows it is more related to his “experiential learning”. He now focuses on God’s grace and love to help him see the worth of every individual. He puts God first rather than an organization or prophet and that has led him to reach for his best life.
I grew up in the Catholic Church and converted to Mormonism when I was 14. I’m a graduate business professor. I seek truth more than highly emotional convictions found in religion. I was a mormon.
I felt a warm feeling when I learned that God appeared in these last days and would actually visit a young boy. The picture and the story created a feeling of comfort and awe. I was baptized shortly thereafter. I felt at home. The church gave me certainty; a turnkey franchise to Heaven – exclusive distribution of salvation, knowledge, and priesthood power. No other churches could do this for me. I had it made. I felt safe.
The certainty I was given also became my comfort zone. It wasn’t until many years later that I realized how I limited my personal vision of what life could be because I didn’t realize I needed more than these prescribed steps to Heaven. Life was more than salvation and safety. I was living in Pleasantville and wanted to please my fellow members and local leaders. I was codependent before I knew what that meant.
I was scripted, programmed. The software of my head was installed because I didn’t have the expertise or knowledge to write the program like prophets. They knew what was best for me. I was a nervous kid as far as I remember but anxiety when to a whole new level in my experiences with the church.
I learned about confession and that any sexual sin had to be confessed to a Bishop. Like most young boys, I masturbated but I felt extremely guilty, fearful, and ashamed every time. My mind would obsess about how bad this was and that I was now one button push away from God sending me to Hell. I had to confess. The first time I went to the Bishop I engaged in some small talk and then sort of ‘oh by the way’ mentioned it to him; said it wasn’t a problem anymore. He confirmed by asking ‘but it’s not a problem now’ and I said no it’s not. What I didn’t realize was that I had felt this huge relief known as negative reinforcement, similar to compulsions and addictions providing temporary relief from emotional pain.
My emotional pain was not because of some reality, it was painful because of what I was taught about sex, the severe penalties, and the unconscious conclusions I made about the author of these laws and punishments. I was well on my way to a performance-driven sense of self-worth and toxic perfectionism. When I lived well, which was probably most of the time, that didn’t matter. What mattered was that I did something ‘wrong’. I told myself ‘that’s the last time’ hundreds of times and my self-doubt and self-hate grew deeper with each broken promise. I was drowning in shame and thought I deserved it. This was not just a cognitive process; it was experiential, highly emotional, and triggered stress responses of ‘freeze’ and ‘fawning’. I’d give up and feel discouraged or run to the Bishop hoping he would forgive me. God’s forgiveness wasn’t a big deal to me, it was the Bishop who had the power as God’s agent to act on His behalf.
My mission took anxiety to a whole new level. I didn’t want to burn up with guilt or be unworthy. This was the beginning of OCD – the pathological kind, not the movie kind! When I was in the mission field, I obsessed every day about sin and worthiness. I never felt worthy enough. I suffered terribly.
These are some of my experiences with the Mormon brand. Some will blame my OCD and yes, that played some role but let’s look at the authoritarian leadership style, the ‘always right’ hierarchical decisions, the high-control ‘systems’ like mandatory confession for forgiveness, courts of love, temple marriage in order to be with family, and control over knowledge and learning not approved by First Presidency.
Today, I’m learning about GRACE. Grace makes unconditional, unselfish love the highest value and obedience is not to a system; it’s not outside-in or in reaction to fear of punishment or hope for reward (external motivation). Grace and love show us who God is, who we are, and that all people have great worth. Faith in Christ is central, not an organization or prophet. If our paradigm of God changes from an authoritarian God to a charitable God, we can see ourselves differently and want to live differently – acting freely and not being compelled.John
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