Hi, I'm John
I'm a graduate business professor (organizational leadership) who is very compassionate, creative, and enjoys traveling to warm places. I seek truth more than highly emotional convictions found in religion, political ideologies, or any system that claims to have the best set of morals, practices, values, and/or solutions for individuals or the world. I was a mormon.
I grew up in the Catholic Church and converted to Mormonism when I was 14. My home was pretty dysfunctional, to say the least. My mom struggled with BPD and my dad was a good man but also a workaholic. My parents divorced when I was 12 so I lived with my mother and 4 siblings. I had many self-doubts which was somewhat typical for a teenager but the fact that my mother compared me to my friends using her selfish expectations and harsh judgments made it far worse. This provides some context for my conversion when the missionaries started giving us the discussions when I was 14. Having two very kind, caring, and respectful 'older brothers' was refreshing and new to me.
The discussion I recall most vividly was the 'first vision' and the image of God and Christ appearing to Smith. I knew very little about Christianity other than Jesus died and was resurrected and some Catholic rituals that I thought were silly. 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 with my mother and 3 of my siblings shortly thereafter.
Visiting the church on Sundays made a highly favorable impression on me. Everyone smiled, welcomed me, and showed genuine friendship and friendliness toward me/us. It was very different from the cold, ritualistic masses at my Catholic Church. I felt at home.
Because I lacked a 'knowledge network' or schema regarding Christianity, everything taught to me formed the very structure of truth and I accepted everything as if it was from the mouth of God. This was the only true church and I had God's favor in being part of it. God's prophets spoke to Him directly and I had to listen and obey. I came from a codependent home in which I lacked my own identity and critical thinking; I had many unmet needs (i.e., to feel unconditionally loved, trust myself, etc.) and looked to others for guidance, safety, and certainty.
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....AS LONG AS I LISTENED TO ALL MY LEADERS, KEPT EVERY COMMANDMENT, WENT ON A MISSION, GOT MARRIED IN THE TEMPLE, AND REMAINED PURE FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE. 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. It was a basic assumption that LDS men should get an education and a great job to support their families. Outside of that, I did not design my life, my future, or who I wanted to be as a person other than my Mormon roles and Stepford Husband persona. I was living in Pleasantville and wanted to please my fellow members and local leaders. I was codependent before I knew what that meant.
When I heard talks about 'every young man should serve a mission' (Kimball), there were no other considerations discussed. I inferred that I had to go or I'd miss out on Heaven and my family - the highest part of Heaven. No leaders ever told us missions were NOT necessary to get into Heaven. The peripheral cues created the context to draw simple inferences. Nothing about family needs, mental health problems, or personal choices (It was a 'choice' with only 2 options - go or stay home and disappoint people). 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.
On my shelf
On the Mormon Spectrum
Before I share my experiences with the church, I want to share an experience I had with the Holy Ghost.
I realize many exmos become atheists and that's part of their path. I will never deny the reality of some power beyond this world. When I was 20, I had an experience that was visceral in nature. It was not a thought or feeling. It was a complete bathing of 'liquid love'; and unconditional love that I never felt before or after this experience. I was in a dream state and my mind began to fill with absolute, complete bright white light, my body felt a fire-like heat that became warmer and warmer until it felt like I would burn alive. A powerful feeling of unconditional love filled my entire being. Somehow, in an instant, I knew this was holy, it was divine. It's not something I can explain. I'm not claiming that I had a visitation of any with my natural eyes in my bedroom. I'm letting readers know that I will never be able nor do I want to deny that experience. The church is not God. I don't believe any leader or member really understands God. After that, I knew this was more than emotionalism, more than elevation theory. At the same time, I believe that many or most of my LDS confirmations were emotional, perhaps because I was reading or hearing about things of God or goodness/love. I used to generalize that because I got a good feeling from reading scripture or hearing a talk, it meant 'the church was true'. Many good and true principles were taught in the LDS Church but does that mean that the foundational claims, deception, false doctrines, and self-protective stances of top leaders are all good? I don't believe so.
This is not about history, deception, bad leadership, etc. Yes, I've seen all of that too.
This is about my experiential learning. We can be told that we're loved by anyone but it's their consistent behaviors and how they relate that form the image of that person and reactions (i.e., judgments, feelings, attitudes, convictions, trust, etc.).
My 'brand experience' (think of a bad hotel experience) was filled with hope and TERROR. When I interact with any company, it's the 'customer contact points' such as assistance with product installation, customer service, billing issues, websites, help with problems, attitudes of employees, and other factors that determine one's attitude and intentions regarding that brand (church, hotel, etc.).
I was a nervous kid as far as I remember but anxiety when to a whole new level in my experiences with the church.
Constant bombardment with the 'amputation gospel' (getting rid of bad parts of me) and avoiding 'sinful' behaviors that were developmentally normal (e.g., masturbation) - these weekly messages about sexual purity and morality in Sunday School, Priesthood meetings, Sacrament Meetings, and turbocharged versions in General Conference from prophets getting these warning messages from God. Everything was a warning. People don't warn unless there's some kind of danger to avoid, some painful experience, or external punishment (or loss of important reward). Never in my life before Mormonism did I hear these sexually-obsessed messages of purity tethered to a good living and eternal life. My neurological system, emotions, and beliefs were being formed and informed with messages of danger, Hell, and a God who would not tolerate the smallest of sins. I'd felt lonely and abandoned much of my life and I would do anything to not be alone forever. I didn't want to burn forever and suffer after already suffering. I was determined to live a perfect life and do everything possible.
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. During the interview before my mission, the Bishop asked me what I wanted to confess. After my obsessive mental review of my past and I told him what I felt was necessary, he asked me- 'is there anything else? Because if you don't confess, your burn up out in the mission field'. That caused a major fight-or-flight reaction. What else did I miss? Maybe I forgot about touching some young woman accidentally on an elevator? 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 never allowed myself to just enjoy, relax, do my best, and be myself. I ruminated about my past to the point that my imagination would kick in and create sins. Some call this 'false memory OCD' but I had no idea I even had OCD and neither did my MP who was hearing monthly confessions (compulsions) that made my OCD worse! I should have been sent home and received help. To me, the church had no right to put young men in this stressful role without the capabilities to support them. I suffered terribly but found some relief in my peers and social bonding.
I came home and my Stake President interviewed me, letting me know I now needed to look for a wife and avoid sexual sin. He said 'now that you've been through the temple, you will be excommunicated for sexual sins' - what a great welcome home! More warnings, fear, and visceral alerts that I was in potential danger. My whole life was now one of avoiding sin, Hell, and the God who had now become a complete TYRANT, TERRORIST, MEAN, DEMANDING, AND INTOLERANT OF HUMAN BEHAVIOR.
I went to a local college for a semester, and dated one young woman outside the church but it was like being caged in some moral behavior bubble and always on guard for avoiding sin. I had to go to BYU and get married if I was to meet a Mormon woman and get sealed in the temple. I had a competition with two roommates who would get married first so they could have sex. We all got married 6 months after the time we met our future wives and all we talked about was sex, like 3 teenagers. We all lost too. Within 7 years we were all divorced because of our ignorance regarding sex, personalities, the hard realities of making a living, and doing this for the wrong reasons.
I think about the impact my decisions have had on my son, his mother, and me. I know I had choices but I can say that I ignored reality. I ignored my OCD problems and didn't even think this was a condition, just a function of my lack of worthiness. My poor little boy. His mom moved back to Utah where she could find another Mormon guy (we lived on the East Coast) and she did. An emotionally and physically abusive priesthood holder with an authoritarian mindset. My son suffered at his hands. The divorce affected him emotionally. I blame myself for all of this. It was always me. I would never ever blame the church, for its harmful cultural norms, and teachings (doctrines). I did everything I was supposed to do; followed top leaders, performed all the rituals, and desperately tried to placate God enough to perhaps let me into His Kingdom someday and not throw me out on earth.
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.
Regardless of what leaders say or tell us about God, these experiences create deeper emotional impressions of who God is, who I am, my worth, and those outside the church. Performance (behaviors), obedience to leaders (past and present), biased views, threats of punishment, and rewards for only a few who can live all the laws of the gospel. Fast forward - after I got divorced, I dated many non-Mormons, trying to find someone to marry but the fear of marrying someone outside the temple never left my subconscious mind so I'd find reasons to break up. I dated some wonderful women I could have married but in my mind, it meant settling for servanthood in eternity, no exaltation, loss of family, and being inferior once again. Never enough. Never.
Today, I'm learning about GRACE. Leaders spoke of grace and claimed grace but it was not a central doctrine in practice - according to my brand experience! What I learned through all of my experiences was legalism. That the atonement made forgiveness possible but that would have to earn the benefits through covenants and a perfect life. The motive in a legalistic system is still fear of not doing enough and making mistakes. Grace is based on behaviors, which is not a free gift. I don't believe grace can change one's choices but the unconditional love of God, if perceived and felt as infinite, genuine love, can cause a heart to be grateful and to want to change from the inside out. Not because of a church or its authority but because Christ came for our sake, knowing we could never be perfect. The heart, mind, and behaviors work together (a theory called cognitive consistency). Legalists want behavioral compliance and 'obedience' is the highest value as I see it. Grace, on the other hand, 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. What I'm just starting to see is that infinite atonement means Christ's perfection and sacrifice can cover all sins. Do we have to earn it by complying with all LDS rituals, ordinances, and rules? Or, do we accept grace and do our very best to learn God's natural laws, live them, have patience with our growth, and seek to understand and love all people? Legalism creates fear and hijacks the higher spiritual brain. Grace ought to create gratitude, and hope, and inspire us to reach for our very best life, to be unselfish, and to see that the power of forgiveness rests with Christ, not our works or the church.
Last thought - researchers at BYU Religious Studies Dept. have discovered that legalism hurts one's ability to experience grace and grace is necessary for mental health! Grace leads to mental health, legalism hurts mental health and gets in the way of grace. If only these prophets had received this revelation decades ago and started teaching it. It seems to be the Mormon scholars or other members with backgrounds in social sciences that shed light on the need for new leadership styles, new values, and reconciliation of doctrines that harm (i.e. blood atonement, can't leave the church without going to Hell, etc.).
That was my experiential learning. That's the powerful impact of culture, leadership values, leadership styles, doctrines, abuse of power, control of information, and taking the Lord's name in vain can be.
If you'd like to talk: [email protected]