If You Can’t Beat Them, Kick Them out

Last night I bumped into an LDS acquaintance I hadn’t seen in years. He asked me what ward I lived in and I told him that I didn’t attend church and I started to explain. He tried to cut me off, assuring me that no explanation was necessary, however, I pressed forward just getting out that, “It was my inability to suspend my disbelief.”

It never fails to surprise me, when the topic of my disillusionment with the church comes up, members (for the most-part) don’t seem to want to know why I’ve lost my faith. I think it’s because members of the church don’t like to acknowledge when someone leaves the faith because of tough questions. Recognizing that there are questions that have ugly answers says ugly things about themselves and the church.

The feelings I have about the church are certainly a mixed bag. One of the things that bothers me is my own fear of speaking up. I’ve been trained not to speak of my disillusionment for fear of church disciplinary action even though it’s just an honest search for truth that has brought me where I am today.

Having concerns about the church is not grounds for excommunication, however it’s in publishing those concerns that can get you in trouble. Is there trouble for publishing even this short blog post about my own disillusionment? Probably not, but the fact that I’m so worried about telling my story demonstrates the level of fear the church has instilled in me.

This morning I found a link to a press release about a member, Jeremy Runnells, facing excommunication because of his widely publicized questions about the church. To my knowledge, he’s never said anything that anyone can demonstrate is false — if he’s like me, he would LIKE to be shown that the church’s claims and history are what it claims it is. However, it’s disciplinary action like this that spreads fear. Instead of answering hard questions, the church takes punitive action against those that dare query.

From Jeremy Runnells’ press release:

Jeremy Runnells, author of the popular Letter to a CES Director faces excommunication from the LDS Church on charges of apostasy

American Fork, UT (February 9, 2016) – Jeremy Runnells, author of the popular Letter to a CES Director (also known as CES Letter), has been summoned to a disciplinary council by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on charges of apostasy. CES Letter represents Mr. Runnells’ sincere attempt to obtain answers to legitmate questions and doubts through proper church leadership channels. Instead of providing pastoral support to Mr. Runnells, the LDS Church has chosen to continue its recent trend of excommunicating members who openly question or doubt church teachings.

CES Letter began as a letter Mr. Runnells wrote to an LDS religious instructor (CES Director) outlining his questions, concerns, and doubts about LDS Church foundational truth claims (e.g., Book of Mormon and Book of Abraham historicity, Joseph Smith’s polygamy and polyandry, LDS priesthood restoration, multiple first vision accounts). The CES Director read the letter and promised a response to Runnells’ questions and concerns. No response ever came.

Upon its public release, CES Letter went viral and immediately became a Mormon internet phenomenon, providing validation and support to tens of thousands of questioning current and former LDS Church members. CES Letter has been downloaded an estimated 600,000 times to date, and over 12,000 LDS Church members have reached out to Runnells after reading the CES Letter.

Runnells reports that he met twice with his LDS Stake President, Mark Ivins, in the fall of 2014. During these discussions Runnells sought answers for questions posed in CES Letter and raised concerns about the LDS Church’s recent historical essays (http://lds.org/topics/essays). President Ivins assured Runnells that he wanted to help, and that he would obtain answers. Runnells did not hear back again from President Ivins until January 25, 2016 when Ivins telephoned Runnells to inform him of his intention to challenge Runnells’ LDS Church membership. Runnells requested a delay until March 15th, citing a close family member in hospice care, which was originally accepted by Ivins. On February 8, 2016 Ivins reversed his decision and informed Runnells of his disciplinary council scheduled for February 14, 2016.

A public press conference has been scheduled for Runnells on February 10th, 2016 at 7:00pm Mountain Time at 50 West Club & Cafe in downtown Salt Lake City (50 Broadway, Salt Lake City, UT). The venue is open for dinner prior to the press conference at 6:00pm. Parking is available in surrounding lots. All interested media, along with supporters of Runnells, are invited to attend and show support.

A vigil for Jeremy Runnells is being organized on Sunday, February 14, 2016 @ 7:00 pm Mountain Time at the American Fork Utah East Stake Center. Address is: 825 E 500 N, American Fork, Utah.

For more information and developments on this story, see http://cesletter.org.

Admitting You Have a Problem Will Be the Best Feeling You’ve Ever Had

You know that feeling you get when you make a good decision? It’s a deeply satisfying thing, isn’t it? And it can sure be elusive – after all, you only ever know a decision was the right one long after you make it. Same thing with bad decisions, for that matter; hindsight is 20/20, after all.

But what if there were decisions you could make that could be guaranteed to have a positive impact on the trajectory of your life?

Well, it would be a lie. Nobody can make such claims. But what I can tell you is that admitting to your personal problems could be one of those decisions. It might not feel like it, and you might not really know right away, but I can personally guarantee that you’ll feel as though a weight has been lifted, and even more importantly, you’ll feel as though you’ve taken control of your life. I can imagine few things in life more rewarding than feeling a degree of balance and control return to your life.

So what kind of stand am I talking about making? Let’s start with the most obvious. The 2012 edition of the Treatment Episode Data Set indicates that some 1.5 million teenagers in America could be considered to have a substance dependency. Just over half of them – about 51.2% – had been referred to some kind of alcohol or drug treatment program by a court.

The thing is, I’m not just talking about chemical dependencies here, although that’s obviously the most well-known sort of addiction. Here are a few others: There’s every reason to think that certain types of video games can be addictive. Sex and porn can be addictive. Even relationships – particularly unhealthy ones – can be addictive.

In case you think I’m speaking hypothetically here, you should know that some of the men in my family have struggled with alcoholism over the years. Too many of them spent too many joyless days by themselves after their closest family members couldn’t be around them any longer. They think of the lost time, lost money, squandered ambition, and missed opportunities over the years, and the regret is sometimes enough to overshadow even the satisfaction of having made a change.

But they did change. Others might make their own personal admission of weakness long before they did, and good on them.

Life is full of temptations. I won’t tell you for a moment that some of them aren’t worth pursuing – responsibly, in moderation, or in the right company – but a great many more will turn your world upside-down and inside-out.

Furthermore, I won’t tell you that there’s an orderly and clearly delineated multi-step program that works for everybody. The Church-sanctioned 12 step program is a great place to start, but like all matters of faith, how you interpret its teachings and put them into action are wholly and decidedly yours.

Know, too, that self-deception is not one of the 12 Steps.

I’m not going to drag this on for much longer. What I’ll leave you with is this: if there was something tugging at your conscience while you read this article, know that it’s probably time to address it. Doing so might be the start of a painful road toward recovery, but the feeling of relief will be an immediate and lasting reward.

Image Credit: Flickr (via Creative Commons)

Abish

While reading about Abish last night (see Alma 19), I couldn’t help think about her situation.

When she was younger, her father had some sort of vision, which was significant enough to convert her to Christianity. Despite her new-found faith, however, she kept it hidden. I imagine it was because of the consequences she assumed would befall her once her people found out she was following the Nephite religion.

That must have been tough for her.

Does God Want to Punish People?

In Alma 14, many women and children were killed because their husbands and fathers believed the words of Alma and Amulek and converted. They were actually thrown into a fire. Amulek was astounded at this and wanted to use the priesthood to stop them (perhaps by some miracle):

“How can we witness this awful scene? Therefore let us stretch forth our hands, and exercise the power of God which is in us, and save them from the flames.” (verse 10)

Alma said that he felt inspired not to intervene because they are automatically saved for their belief in God.

“The Spirit constraineth me that I must not stretch forth mine hand; for behold the Lord receiveth them up unto himself, in glory; and he doth suffer that they may do this thing, or that the people may do this thing unto them, according to the hardness of their hearts, that the judgments which he shall exercise upon them in his wrath may be just; and the blood of the innocent shall stand as a witness against them, yea, and cry mightily against them at the last day.” (verse 11)

The last part of verse 11 was interesting. Another reason Alma gave for not intervening is that “the Lord . . . doth suffer that . . . the people [presumable the ones doing the killing] may do this thing unto them . . . that the judgments which he shall exercise upon them in his wrath may be just”.

So he’s not going to intervene in order that God could punish (exercise judgement upon) them? If Alma and Amulek had intervened and no one was killed, God wouldn’t have needed to punish them. Wouldn’t that have been better all around?

No disciplinary action for disagreeing with the Church

Thanks to a post by DTrain over at Unofficial Manifesto, I came across this quote from a statement on political neutrality on the Church’s website:

Issues on which The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has felt compelled to take a firm stand include civil rights, MX missile testing in Utah, same-gender marriages, pornography, gambling and Utah alcohol laws.

The Church does not extend reprimands or ecclesiastical punishment to persons who choose not to support its views on these issues.