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Q & A

Questioning My Mormon Beliefs

A personal story from a woman raised in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints…

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By Lisa Brockman

Gary and I were dating. As a Mormon, I wasn’t supposed to date non-Mormons. And Gary, a born-again Christian, knew it wasn’t wise to be dating me.

But the connection between us was stronger than those beliefs, and our convictions didn’t have the power to keep us apart at the time.

We were both athletes, both living rebelliously, and incredibly infatuated with each other. We had only dated one month when seemingly out of nowhere he asked me, “How do you know the Church is true?”

Though I hadn’t seen his question coming, I was armed with a ready response, “Because I’ve prayed about it and have experienced a burning in the bosom to confirm that it is true.”

Gary responded, “How can you entrust your eternal destiny to an emotional experience?”

As a Mormon, I knew of no other paradigm for determining truth. A burning in the bosom created by the Holy Ghost had always been my plumbline to determine truth. Gary followed with several more questions.

“How do you know that Joseph Smith is a true prophet of God?”

“How do you know the Book of Mormon is the Word of God?”

“Can you defend the Book of Mormon as historically credible?”

Question My Beliefs?

As one legitimate question evolved into the next, I realized I could not defend my beliefs, and what had always felt like a firm spiritual foundation beneath me turned to quicksand. Every instinct within me was to flee the conversation.

Photo of the author, Lisa BrockmanThroughout the following month, I was haunted by our conversation. As a Mormon, I had been told stories about Church members who were excommunicated from the Church because they had questioned their beliefs. Challenging Mormon doctrine would be a betrayal of my parents, my church, my community, and my family stretching back five generations.

My upbringing in the Mormon Church meant everything to me.

Baptism

At eight-years-old my dad baptized me, washing me clean of the sins I had committed while on this earth. I remember beaming with pride, knowing my name was now written on the membership rolls of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

My baptism laid the foundation of my eternal destiny. It was now up to me to make myself worthy of eternal life with Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. From this day forward, I would be held accountable for my sins.

My teachers diligently taught me that I was the offspring of Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother in a preexisting world, giving me a divine nature.

I would make myself worthy to marry in the Mormon Temple, securing me for eternal life in the highest of the three heavens called the Celestial Kingdom.

There, I would exalt into a “goddess”1 and my husband, a “god” and I would birth spirit children throughout eternity. This was my life’s path.

I soon found that obeying the Church ordinances was not going to be easy.

Though only eight-years-old, I was now a member of the Church and required to fast the first Sunday of each month. From the night before, no food that day until after the third hour of church services. This was a wake-up call for me—that making myself worthy of Heavenly Father’s love was going to be more challenging than I’d thought.

The Importance of Tithing in the Church

Photo of the Mormon temple in Salt Lake CityAnother challenge came at nine-years-old, my first tithing settlement. My entire family walked into our bishop’s office, where the bishop had a printed report of the amount each of us had tithed. He addressed each of us as we sat across from him.

When it was my turn, I sat forward in my chair, eager to know how much I had given the Church that year. “Lisa, you have tithed _____. Is this a full tithe?” “Yes! That is a full tithe,” I responded with pride.

Paying a full tithe was a prerequisite to marrying in the Temple, and though I wasn’t much of a wage earner yet, I had been obedient and knew I was worthy of Heavenly Father’s blessings as a result.

Baptisms for the Dead

When I turned twelve-years-old, I was old enough to participate in our Temple ordinance called “baptisms for the dead.” My Sunday School class filed into the basement of the Salt Lake Temple. We changed into baptismal clothes and awaited our turn.

Each of us were being baptized on behalf of the deceased.

“In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, I baptize you, [dead person’s name].” And then came the backwards dunk. Over and over and over. He was talking so quickly I didn’t have time to wipe my eyes in between dunks. I just kept them squeezed tightly shut with one hand holding my nose each time I was immersed. Over and over and over I went under and came up out of the water.

Baptisms for the dead were one reason we took genealogy so seriously. We believed we held the responsibility to ensure that all people who lived on the earth could have the opportunity to exalt into godhood. Without the baptisms, the Celestial Kingdom–eternal life—would be unattainable for these billions of people.

A Virtuous Life and Temple Ordinances

As I entered my teenage years, standards set for me by my church felt much weightier. What once felt like transporting pebbles into the bedrock of my eternal foundation now felt like I was dragging boulders.

There were innumerable standards I needed to keep all day long: resist profanity, protect my chastity, keep the Word of Wisdom (not drinking coffee, tea, or using tobacco), pay a full tithe, attend church faithfully, participate in youth activities, and keep my mind clean.

Photo of a plaque outside a Mormon church building that reads “Holiness to the Lord / The house of the Lord”A virtuous life is a prerequisite to having the companionship of the Holy Ghost and receiving the blessings of Temple ordinances.2 Obeying God “At all times and in all things, and in all places” was the standard.

I was very aware that I possessed a shadow side that failed in virtue. But there is no room in Mormonism for shadows. Only worthiness was allowed.

There were teenagers around me who seemed to be successful in “possessing a clean tabernacle.” I wondered why it was so hard for me. Shame was always lurking, awaiting my inevitable failures.

Dealing with Sins before the Bishop

Certain sins meant an appointment with my bishop where I would be required to confess to him my sins, intent on no longer committing the sins, in order to receive forgiveness.

The thought of sitting across from my bishop in his office behind a closed door, looking into his face, and sharing my deep, dark secret sins with him felt about as natural to me as breathing under water.

The bishop would also determine my level of personal worthiness based on my contriteness of heart over my sins, and if I would need consequences. I might be told to abstain from partaking of the sacrament during Sunday services.

This thought was dreadful. Everyone in the service knew what it meant when someone was not worthy to partake of the sacrament. Thus, adding to the internal shame came public humiliation.

My Future Role as a Wife in the Celestial Kingdom

As a teenage young woman, I was concerned about my future role in the Celestial Kingdom. I knew that the Mormon’s practice of polygamy had been only temporarily suspended, not banished altogether.

Once in the Celestial Kingdom, I would be a polygamous wife, where I and his other wives would give birth to spirit children throughout eternity, populating his kingdom.3

Just the idea of it felt repulsive and minimizing to me. This was the end reward of all my effort to be worthy of a Temple marriage. Polygamy was very possibly my future as a Mormon goddess. I eventually dealt with this by convincing myself that it would make sense once in Heaven.

Looking for Freedom from Mormon Rules

As I progressed through high school, I knew that some of my friends experimenting with alcohol seemed free from the pressure and shame of trying to keep the Mormon law. I was drawn to their freedom.

Photo of a bride and groomAfter resisting for years, I finally took the plunge into the party scene with gusto.

I knew that one day I would “clean up my act” and marry in the Temple. This rebellious season might last a few years, and then I would return to a life of working to obey the laws and ordinances of the gospel, and prepare myself to be worthy of participating in Temple covenants.

It was in this season of freedom that I decided to play tennis for the University of Utah, where a team member lined me up on a blind date with Gary.

Dating Gary led to inevitable religious conversations. Gary believed the Bible to be the Word of God. I believed it to be the Word of God “as far as it was translated correctly.”

As questions mounted, I eventually agreed to do a Bible study with Gary. I naively believed that everything in the Bible would correlate with and support Mormon doctrine. After all, I believed I was a Christian.

It only took one Bible study with Gary to see that my assumption was incorrect. This sent me into an emotional tailspin. The doctrinal dissonance unnerved me.

The Bible vs. Mormon Beliefs

Each subsequent study stirred up further distress, as I was shocked to find crucial disparities…who and what exactly is God, who are we as humans, how one qualifies for eternal life, etc.

One statement in the Bible that really set me off said, “God is spirit and those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.”4

I angrily questioned Gary, “How could God possibly be spirit? That would make Him invisible.” I thought everyone believed as Mormons believed that God was flesh and bones.

Gary and I were in combat mode and we had barely started the Bible study.

Gary showed me numerous statements in the Bible that clearly state that God has always existed as God, all-powerful, all-knowing, perfect and holy, for all of eternity. God doesn’t change.

Again, this news evoked a visceral reaction—born out of fear and a sense of absurdity.

The Mormon God

Close-up of Mormon Bible which says on the cover “Another Testament of Jesus Christ”My Mormon god was once a man who, through his works, exalted into godhood, just as I was seeking to do. My Sunday School teachers taught me a mantra that one of the prophets of the Church, Lorenzo Snow coined, “As man now is, God once was. As God now is, man may be.”5

I was haunted by the fear that if I were to come to the decision that Mormonism wasn’t true, I would be an apostate. I would be ostracized from my community, and possibly my family. And after death, my destiny would be an eternity in Outer Darkness alongside murderers.

As much as I hated it to be true, as I read the Bible and the Mormon Scriptures, I couldn’t deny that they contained differing doctrines. I wanted to know which beliefs were true.

As I researched and debated Gary, several issues concerned me.

I discovered there is no archeological evidence supporting the Book of Mormon. There are no historical facts confirming the ethnic groups named in it, or its stories or locations; while there is significant archaeological evidence regarding the locations and events in the Bible.

I also wondered where is the voice of Jesus in the Mormon scriptures?

Why is there no genetic or historical evidence supporting the idea that Native Americans are from Israel?

Jesus in Mormon Teaching

I also wanted to know who Jesus claimed to be. What did he say about himself?

If Jesus wasn’t my brother, then who was He? If His death didn’t automatically replace my sinful nature with a divine nature, then what did it accomplish?

The more I read the Bible, the more clearly I could see that Jesus was God—that fact was inescapable. He said so Himself.

As Gary and I explored and debated biblical passages, I eventually embraced what the Bible conveyed, that my nature is not divine, but sinful. This actually brought relief, because I could finally make sense of the shadow-side within me.

I was beginning to grasp that God loved me, really loved me, and created me to be in a loving relationship with Him.

I had made myself a goddess and the natural inclinations of my heart were self-serving toward my own exaltation. Even my attempts to fulfill all the requirements was for self-glory, my own divinity.

The Bible is so clear in its message. “...when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but by his own mercy...through Jesus Christ our Savior...”6

Gary also showed me this in the Bible: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”7

God’s Offer - Not Found in Mormonism

Photo of a BibleWould I believe in Jesus’ death on the cross for my sins and receive His forgiveness, the gift of salvation, and enter into a relationship with him? If so, God promised that He would never leave me, but would indwell me through His Spirit every moment. I would be secure in God and enjoy life in His kingdom.

After 10 months of studying and researching, I had concluded that the Bible, its teachings, and the God of the Bible were true. Yet, there was also the terror of leaving Mormonism and how it would impact my relationships and family.

I was filled with tension, because as close as I was to believing in Him, I was still mystified by His nature. I could clearly see there is one God and that somehow He is manifested in three persons. Somehow, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit are one God.

“God, help me to understand You enough to trust You,” I asked Him.

Then, gently, it was as if I was given a window into another reality—a vision of sorts.

I could picture Jesus on the throne; the presence of the Father and His Spirit encompassed what seemed like a sea of people before the throne. All were worshiping, bowed low before their King, proclaiming, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty; who was, who is, and is to come.” (I later found out this statement is from Revelations, chapter 4 in the Bible.)

This Trinitarian God was not one that I could explain. Yet, I was overcome by the stunning reality that a God so perfectly “other” so longed for my friendship that He sent Jesus to bridge the gulf between us.

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty; who was, and is, and is to come.” I was awestruck by God for the first time in my life.

He is unchanging, always has been God, and always will be God. And most importantly, He is love.

As I lay face down on my bed, I wept tears over how my skewed vision of Him had resulted in me worshiping myself, the people in my life, my talents, and so many created things instead of Him.

With tears of sorrow and joy, my words poured forth. “God, there is no God but You. You are holy and I am not. Please forgive me my sins. Come into my life. Thank You that You are love. Thank You that You are faithful and will never leave me. In the name of Jesus Christ.”

I had toiled and fought and wrestled with Gary and God for nine grueling months, and now my soul was finally at rest. I was fully and unconditionally loved. Eternal life had begun for me and would never end. God had given me a new identity— beloved of God.

God’s Love & My Lifestyle

However, I found myself caught in tension between my old life, which was completely self-centered, and this new life, which was beckoning me toward a life marked by the freedom to love God and others.

Photo of people drinking alcohol, partyingThough I had encountered God and entered into relationship with Him, I became aware that the habits I’d formed in my body in hopes of finding freedom from the law, had grown into addictions. I continued to party like I had always partied, and had the senseless fun I always enjoyed. But it wasn’t bringing me the satisfaction it once had.

When I awoke the morning after a night of partying, I felt something I had not experienced previously. I felt remorse and a discontentedness. I no longer felt shame, but rather, a deep conviction that there was another kind of life that would bring me joy.

Though I wanted to resist the temptations, something in me surrendered to the compulsion to seek life and freedom in the ways I had for three years. I felt captive to my old way of seeking life.

The morning after every episode of drunken partying, God stayed true to His promise to never leave me. He was a God who went with me into the shadows because He loved me unconditionally. Unlike the Mormon god, Jesus stayed with me in my unrest, extending grace and inviting me into another kind of life—a life fuller and more meaningful than I had ever known.

Something Different than Mormon Shame

For 14 months I lived in this same rhythm, wondering if God would get impatient and be done with me. Yet, my wondering was always met with a gentle reminder I knew from the Bible, where God says: “I will never leave you. I am with you always.”8

It felt as though God was right next to me, whispering His truths into me, “There is, therefore, now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”9

This was so challenging for me to grasp because I felt like I should be condemned as I still sought “life” outside of Him. As I simmered in the reality of our relationship, I found myself desiring to draw near to Him.

Unlike the shame inducing doctrine of my childhood church, which in essence taught me that I needed to clean up before drawing near to God, the biblical God drew near to me in spite of my unworthiness and desired to help me grow into the person He created me to be.

I had met Jesus in the shadows, and He remained with me in the shadows, even as I drank myself into oblivion weekend after weekend.

As much as I desired to make Him the highest of my loves, I felt powerless to overcome my addictions.

My 21st birthday arrived and drinks flowed freely. I downed four shots and eight beers with my usual intent to get drunk. The drinks had no impact. I did not even get a buzz.

As a result, this night felt like an out-of-body experience. In my sober state-of-mind, I wasn’t enjoying the scene. I felt like I was chasing something untouchable and couldn’t get there despite my valiant efforts.

I spent the night fending off drunk guys who wanted to take me home. I steadied a friend’s forehead as she vomited into the toilet of a urine-soaked bathroom. I craved a different kind of life.

Photo of a woman praying with hands claspedWhen I arrived home I cried out to God, “I don’t want this addiction to rule me anymore. I am powerless to change. I need You to take away my thirst for alcohol. I want to be free. I need You take away my dependency on guys for my identity. Will You give me courage to be alone with You? I need You to clean my mind and make it new.”

When I awoke the next morning, I was instantly aware that a profound shift had occurred in me. I knew that my life-sucking addictions had lost their power over me, and in their place was a deep peace. It was as if God had done a heart transplant.

What Mormon Legalism Could Not Do

In place of legalism and shame is a God who is real, whose love is unconditional, who never leaves us despite the many ways we look for life and satisfaction outside of Him.

It costs a great deal to leave the Mormon Church, so much so that for many Mormons it often takes years to muster the courage to make the leap. The expectations, the external standards toward self-righteousness, and one’s promise of divinity are so strong, it is difficult to see God for who he is.

Jesus said of those who would believe in him, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”10 (For more on Jesus Christ, please see this article.)

God, who has always existed, who created all that is, loves us far more than we could ever imagine. He invites us into a relationship with himself, to know his love. It is offered freely to anyone who will come to him. We cannot work ourselves into a relationship with him, but need only to simply respond to his offer to come into our lives so we can know him and enjoy life with God.

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Footnotes: (1) The language used was that we would become gods. I translated this to goddess because I was a girl. Mormon language also refers to women exalting into queens and high priestesses to their husbands who are their gods. Whatever the term, we would exalt into deity. (2) “Virtue,” The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, accessed January 30, 2019, https://lds.org/young-women/personal-progress/virtue. (3) Doctrines and Covenants 132. (4) John 4:24 (5) churchofjesuschrist.org/study/manual/gospel-topics-essays/becoming-like-god (6) Titus 3:4-6 (7) Ephesians 2:8,9 (8) Hebrews 13:5 (9) Romans 8:1 (10) John 8:32 (11) Portions of this article are adapted from Lisa Brockman's book, "Out of Zion: Meeting Jesus in the Shadow of the Mormon Temple"


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