Richard Packham is a founding father of the ex-mormon internet. He tells his story of diving deep into church history in order to spread the gospel. He found troubling issues and even wrote to Joseph Fielding Smith to make sense of it all. Everything clicked one moment when he realized all his questions and problems disappear as soon as you consider that the church is just a man-made institution. Once he realized that the only feasible answer is it is not true, he had to leave the church and even though he lost his family, he is still grateful today. He went on the create some of the first ex-mormon content on the internet.
I am descended from a long line of faithful Mormons. All of my ancestors in every branch of my family, for four, five and six generations, were Mormons. The Mormons and their history are my heritage. It is my only heritage. It is where I come from. I left the Mormon church in 1958, when I was 25 years old. I was a Mormon.
My childhood was very happy, with loving and nurturing parents and family. We were “special” because we had the “Gospel,” meaning Mormonism. My high school sweetheart was a good and faithful Mormon girl. I enjoyed my four years at BYU, being surrounded by devout fellow-students and being taught by devout and educated teachers. One professor of geology was also a member of our ward. I was just learning about the age of the earth as most geologists taught it. I asked him one Sunday at church how he reconciled the teachings of his science with the teachings of the church (which said that the earth was created about 6000 years ago). He replied that he had two compartments in his brain: one for geology and one for the gospel. They were entirely separate, and he did not let the one influence the other. This bothered me, but I didn’t think more about it.
I was offered a scholarship at Northwestern University to work on a master’s degree. So my young wife and I with our two (at that time) babies moved to Evanston, Illinois, and for the first time in my life I was surrounded by non-Mormons. I was the only Mormon in my university program. This did not intimidate me in the least. I felt that I was intelligent enough, knowledgeable enough about religion, and skillful enough in debating skills to discuss, defend and promote my religion with anybody. I soon found takers. Many of my fellow graduate students had questions about Mormonism. They were friendly questions, but challenging. For the first time in my life I had the opportunity to spread the gospel. It was exhilarating. We had some wonderful discussions. They asked me questions that I was unable to answer satisfactorily because they were based on facts I was unfamiliar with. I had never heard about the Danite enforcer gangs, about the Blood Atonement Doctrine or the Adam-God Doctrine. Where did these horrible allegations come from?
I realized that in order for me to defend Mormonism I would have to know what its enemies were saying about it, so that I could be prepared with the proper facts. I had never been an avid student of the history of the church, although I had earned the highest grades in the third year high-school seminary course in church history. I mean, what was there important to know about church history, beyond the story of how Joseph had his visions, got the plates, translated them, and how Satan had persecuted the Saints until they got to Utah? I began to read church history, both the authentic histories published by the church and the awful lies and distortions published by its enemies. How different they were! It was almost as if the authors in each camp were writing about different events. And the university library, where I spent a good deal of time, seemed to have more of the latter than the former.What began to bother me most was that the church did not seem to be telling the entire truth about many events in its past.
The Adam-God problem continued to occupy my mind. I finally decided to try to settle the matter. If the doctrine were true, I was willing, as a faithful member of the church, to accept it. If it were not true, I needed some explanation about the apparent fact that Brigham Young (and other church authorities of his time) vigorously taught it. So I composed a letter to Joseph Fielding Smith, whom I respected very much, and who at the time was the Church Historian and the president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. I spelled out to President Smith my dilemma: the evidence seemed to be clear and uncontroverted that Brigham Young had taught that Adam is God the Father. But the present church does not teach this. What is the truth?
I secretly thought that President Smith would write back and say something like: “Yes, you can be assured that President Young taught the truth: Adam is our Father and our God. The church does not proclaim this precious truth because we do not wish to expose the mysteries of God to the mockery of the world. Preserve this secret truth as you do the secrets of your temple endowment.” I received a short and clear answer to my letter from President Smith. It was quite different from what I had expected. He wrote that such an idea was unscriptural and untrue, and completely false. He did not deal with the evidence that Brigham Young had taught it. He ignored the whole problem as if it didn’t exist. It bothered me, but I tried to put it out of my mind.
I remained a faithful member of the church, fulfilling all my church obligations, attending meetings, observing the Word of Wisdom, wearing my temple garments. But I was struggling mightily to reconcile the church’s inconsistencies, lies, and dubious past with my faith in its divinity. It was at a single moment one day in the university library when I was pondering this problem. I was suddenly struck with the thought, “All of these problems disappear as soon as you realize that the Mormon church is just another man-made institution. Everything then is easily explained.” It was like a revelation. The weight suddenly lifted from me and I was filled with a feeling of joy and exhilaration. Of course! Why hadn’t I seen it before?
I rushed home to share with my wife the great discovery I had made. I told her what I had learned: the church isn’t true! She turned away and refused to accept anything I said critical about the church. It was the beginning of the end of our marriage. A last-ditch attempt at reconciliation failed when she said that her return would be conditioned upon my returning to the faith. I realized that I could not do it, however much I wanted to keep my family. In the years since leaving the church I have never regretted my decision for a moment (other than the fact that it caused me to lose my wife and children).
Subsequent study has given me a hundred times as much damning information about the church and its history as I had at the time of my original decision to leave it. Many Mormon friends and family members have tried to convince me that I made a mistake, but when I insist that they also listen to what I have to say about my reasons for believing the church to be false, they soon abandon the attempt, even though I assure them that my mind is open to any evidence or reasoning I may have overlooked.
I left for one reason, and one reason only: the Mormon church is not led by God, and it never has been. It is a religion of 100% human origin. However, my life since leaving the church has been a rich and rewarding one. I married a lovely girl with beliefs similar to mine, and we now have two fine adult sons whom we raised with no religious training whatsoever, and who are as admirable human beings as one could ever want their children to be. And as I am getting older I also realize that I have no fear of death, even though I have no idea what to expect when it comes.Richard Packham
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