I’m going to say a few things that are completely obvious, but I want to say them anyway.
Many, many people have been very kind to me recently, showering me with descriptors such as “hero” and “saint.” Others have been not-so-nice, accusing me of deliberately contriving and manipulating the past and present situations for various motives (e.g., attention, money, career, narcissism). As I imagine that both types of descriptions will continue into the next few weeks (months/years) — I would like to be “on the record” as stating two things.
First…the obvious. I am a flawed individual who is simply trying to do what he feels is right, under somewhat difficult circumstances. I believe in my heart that my work with Mormon Stories originated from a genuine, sincere crisis of faith that I experienced beginning on my mission, but worsening significantly after being called as a seminary teacher while working for Microsoft in the early 2000s. During this time, I began to discover many very troubling facts about Joseph Smith (e.g., his use of folk magic, his financial malfeasance, his polygamy and polyandry, his dishonesty, his illegalities, his maligning of others, significant troubles with the Book of Mormon and Book of Abraham). I tried for years to work through the disillusionment, depression, and despair that I experienced during that time (family, friends, and ward members were of little help) — and was shocked at how few resources there were in 2001 to help people navigate an LDS crisis of faith.
It was from this foundation that MormonStories.org, StayLDS.com, MormonMatters.org, WhyMormonsQuestion.org, MormonMentalHealth.org, AThoughtfulFaith.org, ldshomosexuality.com, GayMormonStories.org, CirclingTheWagons.org, MormonsForMarriageEquality.org, NoMoreStrangers.org, and other such projects would grow. I saw many Mormons struggling….I was struggling myself….and wanted to provide help. In all of these efforts, I have been inspired (ironically) by what I learned at church.
“How think ye? If a man have an hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray, doth he not leave the ninety and nine, and goeth into the mountains, and seeketh that which is gone astray? And if so be that he find it, verily I say unto you, he rejoiceth more of that sheep, than of the ninety and nine which went not astray. Even so it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish.” — Matthew 18: 12-14
Over the past nine years I have made many mistakes (some benign, a few rather serious), but I am trying every day to learn from my mistakes. If someone is looking for a hero or a savior, they will obviously not find one in me. As Sir Charles Barkley once famously said, “I am not a role model.” That said, I believe in my heart that my intent has always been to be as truthful as I could be with my listeners, and to genuinely help struggling Mormons find joy/peace/happiness in their Mormon-related experiences — whether in or out of church participation. Some seem to want to paint me as either a saint or as Satan — and I embrace neither descriptor.
Second, I would like to highlight what I believe to be the (obvious) differences between myself and LDS church leaders.
- I do not claim to be a direct or special representative of God or Jesus.
- I do not want anyone to believe in my words, or to follow my example. I believe very strongly that every individual should follow her/his own conscience.
- Instead of desiring some specific final outcome for people (e.g., staying or leaving the church), I am mostly trying to: a) openly educate LDS church members about their own history and culture, often through interviewing experts (e.g., Bushman, Givens), and b) create spaces within Mormon culture for the open discussion of difficult topics (e.g., doubt, disbelief, social issues) — since many find that the typical LDS Sunday experience, or Mormon culture in general, are not safe or comfortable places to discuss such things. I observe that until very recently, the LDS Church has tried very hard to discourage and even suppress the open discussion of difficult issues within the church context…and I believe that this has caused harm. As I’ve said many times recently, I believe that the biggest problem within the LDS Church today is our inability to openly discuss difficult issues,without fear of punishment.
- Finally, I do not expect anyone to believe anything I say or write. I do not seek admiration, obedience, or discipleship. Instead, I encourage listeners to do all of the learning, reading, and studying that they can — from all of the “best books/blogs/podcasts” — and to come to whatever conclusions they see fit in their own lives. In the end, I do not desire any specific conclusions or destination for my listeners — other than their own health, happiness, and authenticity.
In the coming weeks, I imagine that people will continue to both laud and demonize me (from both sides of the ideological spectrum). I understand that this comes with the territory, but I want to be very explicit about where I stand.
1) I am flawed, and I both openly and freely admit this.
2) In spite of my mistakes and weaknesses, I have always tried my best to be honest and to help Mormons in need.
3) I am willing to be punished, if necessary, as I stand with others to support the right of struggling LDS Church members to discuss their struggles openly, without the fear of punishment from church leadership. If am to be excommunicated for this (and I honestly have no idea what else I could be excommunicated for), I guess I will consider such action to be a tragic sacrament.
But still, my greatest hopes are that the church will show itself to be strong and confident enough to withstand the open discussion of difficult topics, and that they will simply leave me and my family (and Kate Kelly) alone.