A recent episode of the Mormon Book Reviews podcast features an interview with Evan, the creator of wasmormon.org, and his brother Garrett. Evan shares the story of how he came to create the website and why he chose to share his experience of leaving the Mormon church. The interview includes the personal stories of faith crisis shared by the brothers about their own intertwined faith deconstructions. They cover topics such as the challenges of leaving a high-demand religion, the importance of community and support, and the benefits of telling your own story. Overall, the podcast offers insights into the experiences of those who leave the Mormon church and the reasons behind their decisions.
Have you ever wondered why a friend or loved one has stepped away from a faith tradition? Would you like to understand more about the personal faith journey of someone you care about? Our guests today on Mormon Media Reviews on MBR have made it possible for people to share their experiences so that others can learn from them and understand a different perspective. Evan Mullins is behind “I Was a Mormon” (link: https://wasmormon.org/) a website where people who have left their faith tradition can post stories and information to express their feelings and personal journey. Evan wanted to create a safe space to share very personal stories which are cathartic and healing to those sharing the stories, and also a good resource for anyone who wants to gain an understanding of why someone has changed course. His hope is that “I Was a Mormon” will destigmatize doubt and normalize those who leave the church by providing a platform for all to tell their own story. We even get to hear from Evan’s brother Garrett who gets to tell his story as well! We really enjoyed getting to know Evan and Garrett better on this very special episode.Steve Pynakker, Mormon Book Reviews, “Where an Evangelical Encounters the Restoration”
Steven: Welcome to Mormon Book Reviews, where an Evangelical encounters the restoration. I’m your host, Steven Pynakker, but this is a very special episode of Mormon Book Reviews because it is another MMR, Mormon Media Review with Rebecca Bibliotheca as my awesome frequent co-host.
Rebecca: I think you need to change it to a very frequent co-host. I feel like I’m on a lot which is awesome!
Steven: Well, I remember when I said from a LUG to a frequent co-host. What’s a LUG? Give the origin story of the lug Rebecca, and remind our audience since it’s gotten so big since we last talked about this.
Rebecca: Well, prior to being his frequent co-host, he and I were just in a book club that I started together, the good book club for post and nuanced Mormons, a virtual reading group, and one day Steve thought “You know what? I’ll have Rebecca on, I’ve got a slot to fill, you know she’s unknown, a largely unknown guest.” So, that’s how he introduced me, he said, “Here is my largely unknown guest, let’s just chat and see!” So LUG is the acronym yeah so he likes to say and maybe if I ever write my autobiography I will say from LUG to who-knows-what but yeah, great, that’s awesome, yeah what a great story thanks.
Steven: Just a real quick reminder folks, I just want to remind you that this month’s book giveaway is Battlefields to Temple Grounds, Latter-Day Saints in Guam and Micronesia, one of the editors was Devin Jensen who’s been on the show, my good friend, and last time I was out in Provo he gave me two copies. So, I’m giving one away for this month. In the description, there is my Mormon book reviews @ gmail email address. Just make sure you put in the subject heading book drawing and then put your name and address, U.S residence only this is for the March April book drawing. Okay now that we got all this out of the way and we know what a lug is now.
We get to meet a couple, two homies here, that I think are really cool. Now, this is the thing folks, these guys are involved in this website this social media campaign called “I was a Mormon.” Now, the question you have is: why would you have somebody on your program that’s doing “I was a Mormon”? Well, I’ll tell you why! First of all, I know my audience is a mix of atheists, true blue Mormons, Progressive Mormons, and nuanced, we have them all, church employees! I hear from church employees all the time all right. I think it’s really important that we have these conversations.
Steven: When I was an atheist, for a very long time people would come up with reasons why I was an atheist, but they would never ask me why I was an atheist, because maybe they were afraid to ask the question or maybe they weren’t interested. Maybe it’s time that you ask your family and friends that have left the church. Let’s sit down and talk and tell me why you left. Share your story with me. Because I think it’s important if you want to know why your family members and your friends are leaving the church. These are the kind of stories that you need to hear. We cannot tell their narrative, we need to hear it from them. I think that’s the most important thing, so we want to do this in love understanding, and bridge-building. This is not, we’re not here to bash okay? We’re not gonna bash at all, this is not an anti-Mormon channel, never will be, never has been never will be. So without further ado, I want to introduce my two guests here Evan Mullins and his brother Garrett. Evan, you are the founder of the “I was a Mormon” media campaign, social media campaign, and website. Welcome to the program!
Evan: Yeah thanks for having me, I feel like a LUG as well.
Garrett: Not for long, Evan, not for long!
Steven: That’s right, well, it’s really interesting because of course I’m a frequent scroller on Reddit, and I thought, for a long time when I saw those “I was Mormon” posts, I thought these were paid advertisements because they’re so professionally done. It looked like it was in the advertising campaign, but you’re actually just posting your stuff on ex-Mormon and Mormon subreddits and then elsewhere. I didn’t realize that that wasn’t an advertising campaign, that’s actually part of your setup. I mean it’s pretty impressive marketing. I have to say.
Evan: Oh thanks.
Steven: Yeah, I mean you know social media really well.
Evan: Yeah, I am professionally a web developer/web designer, so, it comes naturally to me I guess. It started more as people telling their own stories, and I got the idea to share a spotlight on social media. That would highlight one person a week or every few days, so that’s what those graphics you saw were.
Steven: Yeah, it’s very interesting we’re going to get back to that, I just thought it was fascinating because that was my initial encounter with what you guys are doing. But before we go there, I also wanted to welcome your brother, Garrett, who’s one of those people who has actually submitted one of their stories “I was a Mormon” on there. Garrett, welcome to the program!
Garrett: Hey! Thanks for having me. It’s fun to be here with everybody!
Steven: I want to start this conversation, of course, Rebecca’s going to be chiming in as well, but I want to start this conversation with Evan and then Garrett. Evan, why don’t you go first? I want you to give a little background about yourself: tell us a little bit about your faith journey, what kind of family you were born into, and then what would ultimately lead to creating this thing. So give us a little background so our audience can get to know you a little better.
Evan: Okay for sure. I was born into the church, born and raised. Mormon family, I’m one of six kids, so we had a big family. Raised in the Atlanta, Georgia area, so we weren’t “Utah Mormons” but, we were in “the field” so to speak. I mean we were raised in the church and it was normal and there weren’t any big issues, I wasn’t super, say, “churchy,” I guess throughout my upbringing. I mean it was just, we went to church as a family and that was how it was. Living in Georgia, I feel like there was maybe a handful of Mormons at school, but it was pretty much like there weren’t that many of us. So we were kind of singled out a lot.
Steven: Were you singled out by Evangelicals?
Evan: Personally, I wasn’t super churchy, so I didn’t get into religious debates with anybody, I mean I believed: choose the right, be good, and be respectful to people. We had early morning Seminary and stuff. I never I can’t remember ever having a disagreement with anyone over religion or anything though.
Steven: Oh, okay, and would you say you’re a fairly faithful young person? Did you serve a mission?
Evan: I did! Yeah, so I mean I was faithful. I didn’t do any, I mean, I didn’t swear even, I didn’t do “bad things” according to the church. I wasn’t super churchy, like I said, I wasn’t very interested, but I lived it. I’m kind of a shy person, and there’s always that expectation growing up like you’re gonna go on a mission when you’re 19. And I was always kind of like, that doesn’t feel like something that fits me like it just didn’t jive with me. I got to a point when I was like 18 and a half, almost 19, and I told my parents and my family. I was like I don’t think I can do a mission because it just doesn’t fit with me. We had a discussion about it and I came up with a reason: I don’t know if it’s true, so how can I go tell people that it’s true if I don’t know? and that became a conversation point with me and my dad. He was like “If it is true you should really figure that out!” So at that point like as an 18-year-old, I was graduating high school, and I was going to college. I was like “Yeah, this probably is something that I should figure out. If it’s true, it has a big significant impact, and if it’s not, then I can just… You know so I started studying it, and initially, my goal was to prove it not true, so that then, I could just let it go, and move on with my life, you know what I mean? But, I actually studied it, so I really did read it, and I prayed a lot and had a conversion story where I felt what I thought was the spirit. I converted and then I had to eat crow, and go back and tell my parents, “Actually, I think it is true now and I do want to go on a mission.” So, I did actually serve a mission and I feel like I had a lot of missionaries that I served with who were just there, because they were just totally expected. They weren’t there because they wanted to be necessarily. So, I felt like I had a “leg up” on that like I was actually telling people about a conversion story. So I did serve a mission, and it was a positive experience I think.
Steven: Where’d you serve?
Evan: I served in Brussels Belgium and France. So, I had to learn French, which was exciting and exotic too because everyone wants to go to France and Belgium, and Europe. It was also, people say, a “difficult” mission because there weren’t very many baptisms. But I enjoyed talking to people. I wasn’t, I’m not a super like salesman kind of person, and we were taught the sales tactics of how to be missionaries, and I just disregarded all that, and just talked to people, and tried to be personable, and help people. Like the only person I actually saw through teaching to baptism was someone that we met while she was suicidal. So we helped her through that crisis and she started coming to church. That was what kind of saved her life, really, so and that was, I mean that’s still really meaningful to me that I was able to help. I mean from here, from Georgia, I was able to help someone in France, that I could barely speak to, but I loved and I helped, so there is value to that. I definitely would say that.
Steven: I’m glad to hear that. I think it’s great that even though you’ve since transitioned out of Mormonism, you can also see some value there, and you can see some beauty in it as well. I think that the important thing is that I think everybody that was was once a Mormon many of them have a similar story that they could tell about their past faith I think it’s important we do talk about those good things too.
Garrett, let’s talk a little bit about yourself and tell us what’s up, what’s up with Garrett? What’s his deal?
Garrett: Yeah, so I grew up with Evan, so same kind of family dynamic. Parents were very active very faithful, and all of us growing up. We went to church every week and it wasn’t even ever a discussion that this was like your lifetime organization you were a part of. It was just: that’s the way it was, right? And the church was a major priority in our life. Similar to Evan, I was not all that churchy as a teenager, as Evan put it right. It wasn’t until I was about 17 that someone actually recommended to the missionaries that they go talk to me to help me out a little bit. The missionaries came over and I just connected with this one missionary and everything just changed.
Not overnight, it took me about a week or two to read the Book of Mormon and pray about it and it was just this profound experience. This emotion that, I’ve never, I’d never experienced before. So major spiritual experience! That took me, changed my whole group of friends, changed the girlfriend I was dating, and we broke up. I changed from going to the University of Virginia, which is where I was planning, to go to Brigham Young University. I started doing a Mini-Mission. We got permission from the Mission President for me to go and study with the missionaries early in the morning. Then I went to BYU, and went on my mission to Montana! Not quite as cool as France, but I brought home a cowboy hat, so that’s pretty cool!
Steven: I’m really curious, Garrett and Evan I want both of you to chime in here. One of the things I find so fascinating is when somebody has a spiritual experience or a conversion experience that truly changes the trajectory of their life. At the time you felt like you had this really profound spiritual change in your life, and now that you’ve transitioned out of faith in Mormonism. I don’t know if you believe in God yet or anything like that, but now that you’ve transitioned out of the church, how do you take those things that happen to you guys into account? How do you explain that?
Garrett: For me, I continue to have similar experiences.
Steven: To this day?
Garrett: Yea, to this day. In the entire process of reading and learning about a lot of the church history that I had never encountered before, a lot of that was guided by spiritual experiences actually.
Steven: What would you consider yourself now?
Garrett: I would consider myself a hopeful agnostic. I feel like where I’ve grown the most is feeling comfortable not knowing. But I still think that that would be great, and I have these experiences, I have these connections. I’m fully aware that it could be something that’s just happening inside of myself, but I’d like to think that it’s not, that I still have that relationship with the spiritual. And it looks a little different. It’s not as well, but I remember even when I first started coming across some hard materials, I had this moment where I was praying and trying to understand. “Should I just let this go? I feel this sort of eroding my faith and putting me in crisis” and I had a very, similar to my conversion experience, I had this spiritual experience that was like “If it’s true, the truth can’t hurt it, so learn, learn, learn. All in an attempt to repair my faith and make it even stronger, so…
Steven: Fascinating, yeah.
Garrett: That was a long answer, but go ahead.
Steven: Oh, that was great, I love it! Evan, are you still connected to the spiritual or what?
Evan: Yeah, I feel we are, as humans, we are spiritual beings. We have a spirituality to us, whether it’s like mysticism or what you would call it. But I feel like there’s a, and I don’t explain it any way, like there is some heightened emotion or elevated emotion or something that you feel. Sometimes I feel very similar when I’m watching a wholesome movie or you just look at your kids sometimes and you’re like “I just love them so much.” It’s a very similar feeling to me that I felt, but like when I felt it at first I was just praying and I felt that. So, I equated that to what I was taught to expect it to be, which was the spirit. I’m still feeling that throughout my life, and it still is uplifting to me. Like I feel when you hike a mountain and you get a good view. You can stand there and look at it, and just take in the beauty of it. You feel spiritual, I guess you could say.
Garrett: Yeah, I think one big shift in this whole faith journey, and we haven’t gotten into our journeys really all that much, but a big shift is how I used to interpret those experiences versus how I do now. It used to be, that’s how I learned absolute truth was through those feelings. That was the Spirit telling me if something was right or if it was like literally true or not. And I don’t interpret those experiences like that anymore. But, I do have as powerful, and probably as frequently, I have those experiences as someone who’s not active in the Mormon church anymore, as of you know five years or so.
Steven: I always find these stories fascinating because it doesn’t make it so black and white, right? Does it folks? We have to recognize that, of course, and I’ve been in those same areas as well. Real quick, this is what I’d like to do, and I’d like to get Rebecca in on this conversation too, but I wanted you to both finish up your stories a little bit. So, Evan, I’d like you to tell a little bit to the audience. What was it that caused you to maybe have a faith crisis or for your shelf to proverbially break?
Evan: Yeah, I know what you mean. I’ll just yeah pick it up quickly and just go to the breakage. I got home from my mission. I went to the University of Georgia, so, I didn’t go to BYU. I met a girl there and we hit it off, and a year later we got married. Fast forward, we did all the things: we graduated college, we had kids, we actually graduated with our bachelor’s degrees pregnant. So, very Mormon, we had kids pretty early, pretty quickly. I got a job and I was working, she was at home with the kids… Four kids later, and while you’re having kids you’re kind of in crisis mode because you’re just trying to survive on as little sleep as you’re getting.
We got to a point where it was actually my wife who was struggling with the concept of God. She would be telling me “I’m having,” and we didn’t have the language for it really, but she was essentially saying, “I’m having a faith crisis. I don’t know if I believe all this” And my response, as the trained missionary, was like, “Let me explain it intellectually.” So, I then dove in. I mean, I had collected things on my shelf my whole life like polygamy, and blacks and the priesthood, the big things.
I was like, “Let me dig in, I’m at a point in my life, I should like really dig in and understand these things.” So, I just kind of dove in. I think it didn’t actually help her as much as I thought it would, because as I thought, missionaries just help resolve concerns. I kind of missed the mark there, but I really studied and got into it. And as I studied, I kept coming up with more issues on my shelf. There was actually a book. I don’t know if you’ve read it. Navigating a Mormon Faith Crisis by Thomas Wirthlin McConkie, somehow I came across the book and I was like “I need to get this book, and I think this will help us through this crisis that we’re kind of suffering.” As you’re suffering a faith crisis you’re almost scared to tell anyone because you want to fix it yourself. Because doubt is scary, I guess. It wasn’t something that we could like “Oh, let’s go ask all of our friends and family how to get through this.” So we were kind of undercover, trying to fix ourselves, so that we weren’t gonna be broken.
But anyways, I was raised to be very thrifty, so I saw this book and it was like “a 12 dollar book, should I buy this book? I don’t know.” So, I did a whole bunch of research, I was looking it up and I actually found that the author was on a podcast. I didn’t listen to podcasts at all, but I was like, “I guess I’ll check this out”. It was probably 2015 or 2016. So I started listening to that. It was Gina Colvin interviewing him on A Thoughtful Faith, if anyone knows, but that one episode blew my mind. I was like, “They’re talking about like a true church and I’m not experiencing that in my life.” It felt very different. What they were describing as the church was the “weep with those that weep” and “mourn with those that mourn” and caring for people and real communion with people, and it sounded fascinating and awesome. That kind of got me started listening to podcasts, and as I was studying the history, I was also then listening to podcasts, which all just snowballed.
Eventually, it just got to the point. My wife had kind of come to her own conclusion, before me. She had decided that (she didn’t technically leave the church) she was more physically in mentally out. So we kept going like that for a bit, and then my shelf just kind of busted when… I don’t know if you want to talk about specific reasons why…
Steven: Before we do that, hey, I want to get Rebecca into this conversation. Usually, you’re in with it pretty quickly so I want to get you involved because obviously, you’ve had similar experiences maybe just kind of riff on what you’ve been hearing so far, and maybe see any questions you might have for them, yeah?
Rebecca: Well, first of all, I admire both of you for maintaining spirituality on the other side. A lot of us don’t, and I feel I’m kind of in that boat. I was raised by scientists, if you’ve ever read Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen, I am sensibility and not sense at all. So for me, I never had spiritual experiences. I never felt that way. I was just in because that’s what you did. I often wonder now, being on the other side of it, had I had experiences with different elements of spirituality if I would be more attuned to that. So I’m always very in awe, and maybe in a sense jealous a little bit, of people that even though they have changed their faith, transitioned their faith, they’re able to maintain something that sort of fortifies them on the other side of it in that way. Some people have a knee-jerk reaction, they’re like I want nothing to do with it, but then they sort of crave it. But you, both of you, seem like you’ve been able to maintain something that gives you solace, you know, that fortifies you. So for me, that’s wonderful to hear about that part of your journey. I think that’s amazing.
One of my questions for you would be, I guess now I’m curious about Garrett. Were these things going on at the same time, with brothers? I mean, I have my sister, just one sister, and I don’t even think she knows that I’m out. I keep everything back. I keep my cards close, right, which is funny because here I am on a podcast. But honestly, if…
Steve: On every other podcast by the way!
Rebecca: This is a world that if you’re not looking for it, like Evan said, just stumbling upon Thomas McConkie, and stumbling upon Gina. Once you enter it through one little avenue then it’s everywhere and you understand but until you do it’s not so I’m curious about how his brothers did you share anything was it happening at the same time what was that dynamic?
Garrett: Yeah, so it’s so it was happening for both of us separately for a while and then, and I’ll tell you in the story. I went down to Georgia, I was living in Virginia, and I went down to Georgia for a training program. I went over and stayed with Evan, or at least just hung out at their house after the kids were in bed, and one day I just said “Hey, guys, I’ve been reading some tough things,” and Evan’s wife Krista, who was in the thick of her own faith crisis was like, “Wow!” So we connected there and then and it’s grown ever since. It was touch-and-go a little bit trying to feel out how much can I talk about this, right? So for me, it started in 2016, so a little later than when it was going on for Evan and his wife.
I was a young men’s president in Charlottesville, Virginia and I was preparing for a lesson. I was going to teach the young men in a priesthood session about the word of wisdom. I didn’t really have all that much on my shelf, to be honest, I had a couple of little things that were very easy to disregard. Looking back, I can see. I see myself as very stalwart and very brittle in the way I saw Truth. Anyway, I came across this scripture and the word of wisdom that was curious to me, and I was like “What is that, I wonder what that means?” So I jumped on Google and investigated just for like five minutes to help me with this lesson, and came across Sunstone Magazine and Dialogue Magazine. I read a couple of articles and I was like, “Wow, these are Mormon historians, this is really cool!” I had no idea what the history of those magazines were or how the church, you know… it wasn’t even on my radar. I came across just a couple of things that didn’t really jive with the story of Joseph Smith as I knew it at the time, right? This is even before the church essays, or around the time some of those essays were coming out, but I don’t know about them.
Steven: I’m curious what verse in the uh Word of Wisdom is what caused you to investigate?
Garrett: Yeah, so it’s I forget what verse it is but it essentially says that barley is for mild drinks. I thought “Man, what is a mild drink made of barley yeah I don’t know
Steven: It’s called beer!
Garrett: I did not know that! Yeah, I was really thinking it was maybe–have you ever ever heard of tarot it’s like a barley-based coffee substitute or something, it’s not very good but…
Steven: So here’s the thing, barley is beer and hot drinks was hard liquor! That’s what people don’t understand!
Garrett: Strong drinks!
Steven: Strong drinks, no, no, hot drinks! Hot drinks can also be interpreted as liquor as well because it burns you. It’s hot, right? So there’s a lot more history going on there than people realize.
Garrett: Yeah, so so after a day or two I had this spiritual experience where it was like, “Is this something that I should be reading? Because it’s not something that is giving me the warm fuzzies, that’s for sure!” But I understood after just a few hours that the most likely drink of barley mild drink was beer! I was like “Okay, did beer have alcohol in it in the 1830s? Uh, yeah!” How did this happen, right? It sounds ridiculous but that started the journey, and I had this spiritual experience.
After a month or two, my wife called my mission president. I’m not the type of person to really listen to anything that’s not the exact story that we were taught, right? And that I taught people as a missionary, but I felt the more that thread got pulled, the stronger my commitment became to put it all back together. The only way to put it all back together was to learn more, right? That was the only way to get my testimony back to what it was before this started, and even stronger hopefully, right? So, over several months I got into the Joseph Smith papers, reading old Times and Seasons, old Mormon periodicals, General Conferences from the 1920s and 30s. I didn’t know anything about podcasts, so the information wasn’t easy to come by. It took a lot of energy and effort and as I kept going, the thread just kept on getting pulled and that rug just started to unravel.
Then all of a sudden, this was probably, well sorry, tell me if I’m taking too long, but it started to really have a–I started to go into a real crisis, Mental Health crisis. I was at work in Virginia (I worked at a hospital) and I knew there was a primary care physician’s office just in the building next to my office. One day, I just couldn’t stop crying. So, I just walked into this Primary Care office. I couldn’t even barely talk to him. I was just, there was a psychiatric office right next door. Luckily, I was at the University of Virginia and there’s all this help, and they put me right in with the psychiatrist right then, and started to talk through all that this was doing to me, right? I was in the throes of what they call the Dark Night of the Soul. This is like “Who am I, even? I don’t know myself anymore and if I tell people about this I’ll lose my community. Am I going to lose my family?”
My wife and I were both very similar in that we were “all in” on the church and that that was a very tough couple of years. That was in 2016 probably, a few months before I brought it up when I was visiting with Evan. I said there were some hard things I was learning and I wasn’t really sure what to do with the information. And he gave me that book, the Mormon Faith Crisis book, which was actually really helpful. It helped bring me out of the crisis to where I was comfortable in the church without knowing for certain how everything fit together for a while. That helped for a while.
Steven: That’s interesting and then Evan, I want to tie your story in with his. So talk a little bit about what did it for you, and then maybe talk about your interactions between the two of you. How you guys were able to kind of sort things out, and then I want to–because really honestly folks, this is I was a Mormon is. It’s what this is people telling their stories and “I was Mormon” kind of explains itself. So, Evan just kind of give a little bit more of your story and tie it in with Garrett’s.
Evan: Okay, yeah, so like he said, I gave him that book. Really the book is kind of like Fowler’s Stages of Faith kind of thing. I can’t remember the terms, but it’s like you’re a literal believer, and then a more nuanced, and then maybe like a holistic believer, but you don’t worry as much about the details or the rules. But anyways, that book helped us as well, but by that time I was then into podcasts. I was listening to Mormon stories and Mormon discussions and A Thoughtful Faith a bunch. I couldn’t get enough. I was driving probably an hour and 15 minutes to work every day, so every day I had two-plus hours to dive into this stuff. I just kept going on that.
A big catalyst for me was the Sam Young stuff with the Protect LDS Children petition. I remember saying something about it on Facebook. I was the executive secretary at the time and my Bishop, who I met with every week, he kind of pulled me aside and was like, “You shouldn’t do that because he’s talking bad about Bishops, and I am your Bishop, and everyone’s going to put two and two together!” And I was like “Well, it’s not about you – it’s just a systemic issue with the church!” I didn’t take it down, and he didn’t point-blank tell me I had to, but he wanted me to. So it kind of put a little thing between us maybe.
It’s funny because all this happened, like so many things, were happening on different tracks, but they were all related in some way. I’m not exactly sure how exactly sometimes, but like I know it was related. A little side note I guess is, I had been looking for a remote job where I could work from home because our family dream was to buy an RV and live in our RV and go traveling. So, I was looking, and it had been a couple of years. It was during all of this that finally I did land a job that would let me do that. I was like okay! So then I basically asked to be released, but not because I wasn’t going to come anymore, but because I wasn’t going to have an address anymore. We were selling our house, and we were just gonna live on the road, so we kind of left. That was maybe not the best thing if you’re if your goal is to stay in the church, to not have a ward anymore, but we did it. We traveled full-time internationally for a few years, and we went overseas housesitting for people with our family. That gave me even more time to dive into the interesting stuff because I wasn’t commuting anymore, but I also had free time. We were traveling and exploring, but also still digging into this stuff.
For me, like Garrett’s catalyst was the word of wisdom, which got him into stuff, for me, the pillar that I kept on was The First Vision. I was like “This explains everything, if this was what it was!” I grew up with Gordon B Hinckley saying “Everything rests on The First Vision, either it happened or it didn’t. If it didn’t, the whole thing is a fraud!” So, I was like “Well, that definitely happened!” I had been to the sacred grove, I had been to places and felt spiritual experiences there. But I finally allowed myself to look, because I hadn’t even looked. I had heard that there were multiple accounts of the first vision and I had heard of people’s issues with the first vision, but I never allowed myself to look at it. But I finally did, and I thought like Garrett “If it’s true, it can be examined and it will withstand the scrutiny.” But, my belief in it just kind of fell apart the more I studied it. Then I was kind of left, as we were traveling, I was left like well, I mean I don’t know what to…
As we traveled at first we were like joining different congregations. We went some in Australia and in different places so we kept going as we could. But it didn’t always make sense, but we got to the point where it just wasn’t a priority anymore to us because it was almost more harmful to go than it was to not go, if that makes any sense. That sounds crazy to believing members, to say it like that but that’s really what it felt like.
Garrett: Yeah, it was similar with us. For me, it took about a year or so for the truth claims to sort of fall apart, right? That thread became totally undone and at some point the most logical, most likely explanation, not that it’s about logic but, was that this wasn’t literally true.
But then for a long time, there was still this sense of community, and the utility of it in our lives, right? Does it help us raise a good family? That kept us going for another couple of years, and until, as Evan said, once it became more harmful than healthy to attend We were trying to carve out a gray space for ourselves in this community where we could be sort of unorthodox believers. I was not very good at keeping my hand down in Sunday school, and so I would say things the way that I saw them, in a very respectful way, but it kind of you know… I got released from the Elder Quorum Presidency, and put in the clerk’s office so that I wasn’t in class. I was told it would be better to not be around the other people during Sunday school and classes, and that even wasn’t the real problem for me, honestly, until the trauma of leaving church every week my wife and I just crying on the way home.
Steven: Oh, my goodness.
Garrett: We don’t have a home here anymore. So, eventually, we just sat down and said let’s just put it on the table. Let’s put on the back burner. Take a break, and you know, at first, well it still remains, this is going to sound wild to say, but it remains such a relief that we are past that trauma. I mean there’s still lots of external trauma with our extended family relationships but internally now I’m very at peace with my belief system.
Evan: I think at some point, I mean we were in touch with each other from the first point when we talked to each other. We weren’t driving each other out necessarily, I think we were trying to help encourage each other to find that gray space. And find that space where you can make it better by staying.
Garrett: Yeah, I’m actually surprised thinking back that we weren’t like “Hey, have you read this yet?”
Evan: Right? We weren’t blasting the church at all even to each other. Because we were doubting, but we were encouraging each other. We came to the conclusion together, well, I don’t know about together, but we talked about it a lot that the church actively discourages a gray space. They don’t want people coming to Sunday school and talking about something that’s not in the manual, or something that’s not in the correlated material even. They don’t want Sunday school to be a deep dive, and they don’t want you to get up and bear your testimony about how messy church history is. They kind of look down on that and make it so you feel less welcome.
Steven: You know, this is the thing. This reminds me because you guys are talking about your story and your experiences like that. You’d read books like “Hey, this is how you can navigate Faith” and you’ve got people like Terrell Givens and stuff like that who kind of give you different options on how to do it, but I always remember this one story that Rick Bennett told. He’s friends with Terrell, and he had this conversation with him. I’m kind of trying to practice my faith but because Terrell was saying he was going public and saying “Hey, go out there, embrace the nuance. Embrace some of these things, and just live your faith a certain way and accept some of these things.” So Rick was like “Yeah! You know what? I need to do more of that!” So, he decided to teach out of a parallel Bible in a Sunday school class. And that was the last Sunday school class he ever taught. To me it’s so sad, because on one hand I’ll probably be having lunch with Terrell next time I’m in Utah, I’m gonna hit up Bob Millett, right? These guys, they make, they create, they tell us about a type of Mormonism that they say you can live, but then when people try to practice it on a ward level, they’re often crushed. I’m sorry folks, I hear the story all the time. What you guys are saying, I hear all the time, even from members of the church so…
Garrett: Yeah, there’s an opportunity for such a rich community, rich dialogue to be had in the church. A lot of the members at the award level aren’t quite ready for it, so when it comes up and they feel, because you know you’re sitting in Elders Quorum, or you’re sitting in Sunday school, and someone makes a comment that kind of makes you feel a little uneasy and the instinct is to push as hard as you can against that and label it as unfaithful, even though if you nurture it, it could become a very helpful, healthy, safe space for people.
Steven: So Rebecca, I told you a couple of weeks ago I was going to be talking to the I was Mormon people you know and you say “I got to be in on this interview” and I think it’s really important because you were engaging with their stuff I think. Like Bill Reel, he put something in there. You even started the application process to do the I was Mormon. Maybe talk a little bit about your engagement with I was a Mormon. The experience that you’ve had and then we can talk a little bit more about what I was Mormon is all about.
Rebecca: Yeah, absolutely! And just to chime in a little bit on what you were saying before. I think a lot of people don’t realize that most people in their journey, try to stay in for quite a while. They try to exist in those gray and nuanced spaces and it is kind of situational whether or not you’re allowed to do that where you happen to be. And unfortunately, like you said, a lot of times you’re shut out, you know, of being able to express things and talk about things. Then eventually, you just find yourself doing what’s more comfortable for you, or in some cases to even save your mental health, you gravitate away. That’s a lot of people’s situations!
As far as was Mormon, I’m like you Steve, my first exposure was just on social media seeing these very nice little, I thought they were ads too, I just thought “Oh, this is interesting, and this is a twist on the I’m a Mormon Campaign. Which of course has now been shut down or whatever when they had the church name changed. But that’s what I thought and I didn’t even really realize I don’t think, Steve, until you said no, no, this is a movement! This is a thing! So then I started looking at it and I think it was Evan that said “Oh, why don’t you go on and put your story on?” And so I thought oh it’s probably just something where you go on quickly and put a little blurb about who you are, but it’s not it’s a lot more than that. It’s really a place for you to, I don’t know, kind of almost work things out. Where you are and what you’d like to share with others, and of course, you can put a very short blurb on too, but there are lots of places on the site where you can answer gospel questions. What did this mean to you? What’s your take on this? What’s your story? List some things that you maybe had questions about that maybe made you look at things differently.
So it’s a very interactive place to go to put your story down. And then you can read, this is the other reason I haven’t put my story on yet because I got lost in the rabbit hole of reading everybody else’s story! There are so many! I gravitated toward one right away where you put a heading and some gal had said “Let’s go to brunch!” I’m like, oh I like this one, because that was one of my first shelf things “Why is everyone else in the world going to brunch? What is brunch? I wonder who knows?” But no, and I know I’m being facetious a little bit about that but you know to this person that was it! I want connection, community, I found it on my second Saturday. So no, I was really impressed and I’m excited to go back and read more of the stories and then get brave enough to put my own on there. But I really see it as a way to connect and it really is a community, I mean you start looking at it going “Oh my, there are a lot of stories!” I don’t know what the numbers are, you guys, do you want to mention how many people are on it? I didn’t see a way to tell but I’m just going through story after story and a lot of heartbreak in there too, but then you also saw a lot of resilience and positive messages of people finding life on the other side! So I don’t know, maybe talk about the demographic or the numbers. I’m very curious!
Evan: So yeah, I started it I think about four or five years ago now. It was right around when the whole “don’t say Mormon” thing came out. Saying Mormon is a “victory for Satan” and that kind of thing. I had just kind of left at that point, but I was still paying attention, and that bothered me a lot. I was like “Why would they have done this huge ad campaign just a few years ago, and then flip totally 180?” I was like “Well, I mean, it’s new management.” So, I got curious, I remembered making a mormon.org profile when the church was campaigning that. As I mentioned, I’m a web developer, so I enjoy websites, that’s my space, so I thought it was cool that the church was doing that. It was kind of Genius, I was like “Yeah, they’re owning the term Mormon and answering all these questions.” In the same vein, I was out and I wanted to share my story, but no one really wanted to hear it, either. I was like, “I just need to write it.”
So, as I was listening to everyone tell their stories on podcasts and things like that, I was like I just want to write mine, and I could write it in a Word document, of course, but I’m a web developer so I was like… I could… and it like just kind of clicked. I was like I could make a website like the mormon.org website and tell my story on it, but I didn’t want it to be like ex-mormon.org. I came up with was Mormon. That feels more gentle to me, like I was… yesterday I was wearing a blue shirt, today I’m wearing, I guess I’m wearing blue still, but it’s just like a matter of fact. Like I was Mormon, like I was a teenager, I was 20 years old, but now I’m a lot older. So…
Steven: It’s kind of like you, Rebecca, you prefer post-Mormon. And Nathan Smith was the one that told me “I felt like I graduated”, in other words, rather than making about EX and Anti, it’s about acknowledging the positivity and the things that made me the person that I am. It sounds like, to me, that’s what you’re kind of doing the same thing with your title.
Evan: Yeah, so I’m kind of doing that, and the goal of the site was to allow myself, but then anyone. I was like if I could make it for myself I can let anyone just create a username and sign up and tell their own story too. That spoke to me, so I went for that, and honestly, like a week later, I had built the website because I was a little OCD about it, and then I started sharing it. I had been in contact with Bill Reel before, just through his podcast. So I sent it to him and he was like “I love this, this is such a good idea!” He shared it and all of a sudden, there were like 20 people that had created a profile in the first couple of weeks. I was like “What have I done?”
It’s kind of gone quiet a little bit, you know, life gets busy. But it’s been there and it was about a year ago we actually stopped traveling. We bought a house, so we’re stable now and I found myself with some time. So I came up with the idea to Spotlight some of the stories and have a social media account for just sharing them because I felt like people were telling really good stories and I didn’t want them to just be lost. So, I wanted to share them socially, and that kind of snowballed. People saw it, and then more people started making accounts, so I think now, there’s over 200 on there, maybe not 250 yet but around there.
Steven: Wow, there are a lot of stories!
Garrett: I think this has come across, but going through this experience, you’re aching for somebody to understand what’s going on, right? I think that’s why these podcasts where people tell their stories, right, Mormon stories, and others are so meaningful to people. I remember feeling like “Oh, man, if I was forced to put all this together and tell it to the world, there would be a lot of healing through that process for myself. Internal healing, so when Evan told me that he was going to do this, I was like people are gonna get so much from this! It’s work, well it doesn’t have to be work, it can be as much work as you want, but the more you kind of put it all out there, I feel like the more healing it can be. That’s why some of these people’s stories are so impactful, not only to themselves but then to all the people who read them, so it’s kind of like a web version of Mormon Stories or the same kind of idea, right?
Steven: You know, this is the thing folks, you know, of course, I talk to church employees all the time I was just talking to a BYU Idaho student today. They’re in various stages of faith. Some are very true blue, others are questioning, nuanced, maybe they’re checked out, and I get to hear. I mean folks, you understand, what you see in my program is just the tip of the iceberg. What we’re doing is having conversations off the record with people that need healing in their lives or have questions about whether they want to stay in the church or not, and of course, I’m not one to go and tell people they need to leave, I don’t do that kind of stuff, that’s not what this is about. Even though I’m an Evangelical, I’m not interested in proselytizing.
I’m interested in people having wholeness in their lives and peace in their lives and healing and restoration in their lives because I think these are really important things. So these stories, each one of these individual stories, is a life. It’s a soul, it’s somebody of value and we need a place where people’s voices can be heard. Not everybody gets on Mormon stories, Mormon book reviews, or all these programs. But we do hear your voice, I hear your voice. I get your emails every day, okay? So I am listening and maybe I don’t respond to every single one of them but I try. Because I really do care and love all of you so much. Starting this endeavor has really enhanced my spiritual experience as well. It has become a ministry in the sense that I’m there just to help people because I love them. And that’s what it’s all about. It sounds to me like Evan and Garrett, this is what you want to do too. You want to help people, and you want to find a place of closure and healing. This is part of that journey.
I often go to the ex-mormon Reddit, just about every day you got that one person who goes and says “Well, I’ve been here for three years, and you know I gotta say goodbye now. I wanna thank you for the time spent here.” Then they move on. So, I also want people to realize this too, because see, of course, in my story many of you know, I was an atheist for a very long time. I tell people, “You don’t understand that atheists often are going through a grieving process because they lost their best friend. Also, they go through an anger process, a lot of people. Then they go to a process where they kind of withdraw, and a lot of people are only engaging one aspect of atheism.” That’s why I tell people atheism can be quite therapeutic. I talked about that with John Dehlin last time I was in Utah, so we have to acknowledge all these complexities. This stuff’s really important to me. Okay, it really is. What you’re doing sounds to me like it’s having an impact on people’s lives, and I want to thank you both for coming on here and sharing your stories today.
Man, going RVing, see, that’s my game plan! I plan on buying a Class B RV and traveling backroads through the United States and stuff like that. That’s what that’s something I hope to do in the next few years. I will have you come back, we’ll maybe do an RV special!
Rebecca, you know, I want to thank you so much for coming on and co-hosting today I just know is there anything else that you wanted to add to this conversation?
Rebecca: I’m sorry my dogs have been barking a lot. I’ve been muting and unmuting today. I just feel like, this site, if anybody would like just a window into maybe what kinds of experiences people are having. That if you’re faithful, and you have family members that are struggling, if you want to kind of understand what people are going through. There’s a variety of experiences, and I just barely scratched the surface, but it just gives you a sense that people are really trying. They’re trying to do what’s best for themselves, perhaps for their mental health. It helps you understand maybe where they’re at and no one is trying to do anything to hurt anybody or to spite anybody. Everybody is just trying to walk along this journey in life. So, I would recommend either sharing your story there, if that’s you. Or if you have a family member or a loved one or a friend that you’re just trying to understand a little bit more about, you can gain some insight. That would be my recommendation for going to wasmormon.
Steven: The Rebecca Bibliotheca seal of approval, you guys got it, congratulations! Thanks again for coming on, was there briefly was there anything else you all wanted to say about anything that we didn’t cover?
Evan: I would echo. I think the…
Steven: Where can they find you? Tell them where they can find you.
Evan: Sure, I would say, the real meat of the site wasmormon.org is all these stories. I feel like I’ve met all of… like I read all of them, I feel like I’ve met all of them, a lot of them I feel connected to even though I’ve never met them. I don’t even know some of their real names, not everyone puts their full name or their photo on there. But it’s very therapeutic, it’s cathartic to read them. You feel a camaraderie with them, and validation, and I wasn’t expecting all of that. But it’s been really good, it’s really helped me through my story, and like you said closure to just see the other people and trying to help the marginalized, or de-demonize the doubt, or the those that wander, you could say. So yeah, check it out it’s wasmormon.org! There’s a Facebook and an Instagram and whatever else, I don’t go too crazy on social media. but I try to share it out.
Steven: That’s great! This is the thing, and Garrett I want you to say your thing too. What really hit me, was the community we talked about that on Rebecca when I was on Mormon-ish, the importance of community to help you get through the PTSD and the stress and the turbulence. So you’re creating a community and that’s what’s so important. Garrett, what do you have to say?
Garrett: Oh, that’s all I was going to say, too, is community and connection, right? Echoing what Rebecca said “Nobody is trying to hurt other people by going through this experience,” right? Looking at who I was, as a Mormon, the way that I saw the world and I saw other people having this experience, that is so hard to know that I’m in that category now. That’s how this whole community that I have given my life to, sees me as, sort of a complainer. Somebody who’s not strong, somebody who’s… dangerous, dangerous, yeah. So people wouldn’t want to talk about it, and that’s okay, I’m not trying to force anybody to listen, but to be understood, I mean that that is such a big part of our lives. Things like wasmormon.org and these podcasts were going on right now, I mean this is what it’s all about–helping people connect and feel that community and be understood.
Steven: That’s great yeah. That’s what’s so important, the community and helping other people and then sharing your story which can be therapeutic in itself but then also other people can read your story it resonates with them and helps bring healing into their lives. I think that’s the most important thing!
Gentlemen and Rebecca. Rebecca, once again, the frequent co-host, thank you so much for coming back on the program today.
Rebecca: You are welcome, always happy to do it.
Steven: Evan and Garrett you guys seem like really cool dudes I’m really glad we were able to get this interview together. Evan, I know, it took a while for us to make this happen, but I’m glad we did. So, thanks for coming on guys.
Evan & Garrett: Thank you, thank you, it’s been great!
Steven: So I just want to remind you don’t forget to like And subscribe and hit the notification button for when a new episode comes out uh I also will leave links in the description to the community wasmormon.org, and also there will be uh uh links in there if you’d like to financially support the channel through PayPal, through Patreon, through our merch store mormonbookreviews.com. We got T-shirts. We got hot chocolate mugs. We got it all folks! The hoodies it’s all there, pillows… Check that out as well and just remember, the most important thing, folks, is all the voices of the restoration will be heard here on Mormon Book Reviews.
- Evan’s wasmormon story
- Garrett’s wasmormon story
- Demonizing Doubt: Nelson’s Talk on Lazy Learners and Lax Disciples
- The Mormon “Shelf” and Why it’s a Problem
- Putting Questions on the Shelf is Unhealthy and Doesn’t Work
- What happened to Mormon.org?