Content Warning: homophobia, internalized homophobia, mental health, religious shaming
Introduction: Please provide a 1-2 paragraph introduction, introducing yourself to the readers.
I grew up in Southern Alberta, Canada. I come from a strong, traditional, LDS family, with two sisters and two brothers. My dad was from Cardston, Alberta, and my mom is from Salt Lake City. They met at the University of Utah and married in the Salt Lake Temple. Both sides of the family have many generations of Mormon legacy. Most of my life, I followed the plan that was expected of me – I served a mission in France, taught at the MTC, graduated from BYU, got married in the Cardston Alberta Temple, started my professional career, went back to school for an MBA and PhD, and had four beautiful children along the way. Now I have eight grandchildren, with number nine coming soon. My career as a university professor eventually evolved into administration. I am currently a business school dean in California and love my job.
Service in the LDS Church, working hard to be a loving husband to my wife, and being a good father to my children were priorities in my life. I always had one or more callings at the ward, stake, or regional level. This included a gospel doctrine teacher, early-morning seminary teacher, high priests group leader, counselor to three bishops, stake high councilor, stake auditor, and ward mission leader. I served faithfully in these callings, had a current temple recommend, attended the temple regularly, paid a full tithe, and made generous fast offerings. My testimony of the LDS Church was strong. My first marriage ended in divorce after 33 years. This experience, and the healing process that followed, gave me the freedom to finally accept that I had always been gay. I had repressed that part of myself and conformed to the teachings I believed were true. Now I am happily married to a man, and experience more joy and fulfillment in life than ever before.
What parts of the Mormon experience were most important or useful to you?
I loved the sense of purpose and unique direction that my Mormon upbringing gave me. I held on tightly. I was obedient in every way to the commandments, and I was respectful of the doctrines. Going on a mission, although sometimes very difficult, gave my life a foundation of spiritual experiences. It also provided me with confidence that I could accomplish anything if I worked hard enough. I valued the amazing world-wide community of LDS members and the supportive friendships this provided. I appreciated the opportunities to serve others and help people achieve their full potential. I believed with all my heart that the LDS Church was led by a prophet of God. I looked forward to General Conference every six months, and I looked up to general authorities for their inspiration and direction. I obeyed both the spirit and letter of the law.
What doctrinal or theological parts of Mormonism did you believe that were most important to you?
Belief in eternal progression motivated me to be better every day. I wanted to continue learning and growing as a person, as a husband, father, and grandfather. The importance of families as ties that would last forever helped me to overcome challenges. I kept trying to save my first marriage because I believed that priesthood bonds to parents, children, and grandchildren could last through the eternities – if I was worthy of those blessings. I believed that by remaining true and faithful to my covenants, I could become like God and create worlds without end in the eternities.
What spiritual experiences did you have as a Mormon that sealed your orthodox commitment to the LDS Church?
As a young man, I read the Book of Mormon and prayed fervently for a testimony of its truth. I believed that I received this through witness of the Holy Ghost. My mission allowed me to see first-hand how Mormon teachings helped people change their lives for the better. On the last night of service, I taught a blind man in France about the witness of the Spirit. I saw his countenance change and his face light up. An energy came over him as he received a testimony of the truthfulness of my words. I could not deny the power of what I felt that night. These, along with many other similar experiences, continued throughout my life and sustained my testimony.
How did you lose your faith in Mormonism (or Orthodox Mormonism)?
After my divorce in late 2015, I struggled for a long time to regain emotional health. I went through a period of depression and self-doubt. A very good counselor helped me to move on with my life in a positive way. Although it was a difficult process, I finally accepted that I had always been gay. I had repressed this aspect of my identity because of my strict Mormon upbringing. Because being gay wasn’t an option, I did my duty by getting married, having a family, and continuing on the covenant path. When that eternal marriage ended, I realized I was, and always had been, attracted to men. I had a decision to make – if I stayed in this church I loved, I would be celibate and alone for the rest of my life. This dilemma caused me to study and pray, attend the temple, and agonize over what I should do for many months.
One of the Mormon doctrines I held onto was eternal marriage. So, I began an in-depth study of the scriptures and other church sources on the topic. I wondered what would happen now that my marriage had ended legally. It was still valid according to the doctrine of the LDS Church. Would I really be sealed to someone I did not want to be with for all of eternity? What if the marriage did not work out on earth? I studied D&C 132 and its history on the LDS Church website over and over. I found the official Gospel Topics Essay on plural marriage, and discovered for the first time that Joseph Smith had been sealed to many wives – some very young and/or married to other men – but denied it all of his life. This really bothered me. How could a man I believed to be a prophet of God lie about something so important, so basic to Mormon doctrine? It also troubled me that the LDS Church did not teach these truths openly, but instead tried to hide them for many years.
My studies at this point became deeper, and my training as a scientist kicked in. I read everything I could find about Joseph Smith and the doctrine of plural marriage for eternity. I remember the day I learned the full history of William Law, the respected and educated counselor in the First Presidency. I read with dismay about Joseph Smith’s attempt at being sealed to William’s wife, Jane. William was removed as counselor and later excommunication when he and Jane refused to go along with Joseph’s plan. For the first time, I read and pondered every word of the Nauvoo Expositor. I finally understood the true context of Joseph Smith’s assassination at Carthage. I bought a copy of No Man Knows My History and read it, comparing its content to official LDS Church history books. I wanted so desperately to know the truth about this man I had loved and believed in all of my life. I reflected again and again on a statement that President Gordon B. Hinckley had made in General Conference, that the truthfulness of the LDS Church is all based on one simple question – whether or not Joseph Smith was a true prophet. I started to doubt that he was, based on all I had learned. I read the other Gospel Topics Essays, and went to God in prayer. For many days and sleepless nights, I prayed to know if Joseph Smith was indeed a prophet. I fasted and went back to the temple, where I spent hours in the Celestial Room. That is where my answer came – Joseph Smith was not a true prophet. It was confirmed by the Spirit whispering directly to me. I was filled with the knowledge that God loved me as I was born, as a gay man – there was nothing wrong with me. An overwhelming feeling of peace flowed through my heart and soul. I finally knew what I had to do. I submitted my written resignation from the LDS Church shortly after that experience.
What parts of Mormonism were harmful to you?
I can honestly say that I did not feel harmed by Mormonism as a believing member. Everything seemed to be in harmony -the teachings, doctrines, and my testimony of everything. Looking back, I wonder what life would have been like if I could have accepted being gay earlier on. That might be the only real negative I can identify. Because of Mormonism, I convinced myself that I was not gay, even though I was. I firmly believed that by obeying the commandments, and marrying a woman in the temple, God would bless my life and make feelings of attraction to men go away. The inner turmoil that came with these two conflicting ideas was difficult, but I learned to cope and make the best of it. I relied on my testimony, spiritual experiences, and a firm belief that through the Atonement of Christ, in the eternities to come, I would be made whole.
How do you now explain the spiritual experiences that you had as an Orthodox Mormon?
I explain my many spiritual experiences as an active believing member of the LDS Church from my current understanding of psychology, world religions, belief systems, and the way people think and feel. In my opinion, when we want to believe something – based on our personal preferences, interests, and logical thinking – it is possible to do so in a fervent way. The feelings and emotions in such situations become very real and powerful. A few years ago, I visited a Hindu temple in India and saw the spiritual strength of believers there. I have come to learn that these experiences are not unique to Mormonism. People across all religions have strong beliefs. I respect everyone and seek truth in everything I learn in life. Whatever the cause or idea, there are individuals, few or many in number, for whom these experiences resonate. They both resonate within their soul and align with their social norms. I continue to have similar experiences throughout life, although my understanding of them has evolved and deepened over time.
What was transitioning out of Mormonism (or Orthodox Mormonism) like for you? What was most painful about it? What was most healing or joyful about the transition?
Leaving the LDS Church was one of the most difficult experiences of my life. But, at the same time, it was a necessary and meaningful part of my journey and search for happiness. The most painful part was putting it all behind me – realizing that the church I had believed to be true for so many years, was not. Suddenly, a big part of who I was disappeared. It took a long time to fill that hole, through much inner anguish and contemplation. At times I felt betrayed, especially when thinking of everything the LDS Church did not teach openly. And of all the time and money I had given to an organization I now knew was false. Even still, I have a great love for Mormonism, for its people, and for my family members who are still very strong in their LDS beliefs. I feel grateful for the role it played in helping me become the person I am today. Now I feel at peace about these conflicting emotions and thoughts. I have no regrets, remorse, or anger towards the LDS Church. I was once a firm believer in it and fully understand why many of its members stay active and committed. I take great comfort in Paul’s advice to the Phillippians: “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” The most healing and joyful part of my journey is that I am working out my own salvation today. It feels very good to be doing so.
In what ways did LDS Church leaders or members make your transition more difficult?
I did not discuss my transition with LDS Church leaders or members, so they did not make it difficult for me. After sending my resignation letter to LDS Church headquarters, I felt worried that local leaders or home teachers might contact me about it. But there were no phone calls, visits, or emails. That was a big relief.
Were there LDS Church leaders or members who were helpful to you? If so, how?
I did not reach out to any LDS Church leaders or members for help. The decision to resign my membership was my own, and I kept it private. A few extended family members, who are still members of the LDS Church though not active, reached out to express their support. This occurred when it became widely known that I had married a man, and they assumed taking that step also meant I had left the LDS Church. This support and the love was helpful because family is important to me.
What resources were most helpful in your transition out of Mormonism (or Orthodox Mormonism)?
I found the Gospel Topics Essays to be very helpful in my decision to leave Mormonism. When I compared the essay content to official Mormon church history books in my personal library, there were many troubling discrepancies. This caused me to do more research in search of the truth. The focus of that search was the life and teachings of Joseph Smith. I felt that everything I believed hinged upon whether or not he was a true prophet of God. I read and studied any book I could find on the topic – both official Mormon books and those written by qualified historians. I went to the source material for these books whenever possible. I wanted to judge for myself and draw my own conclusions. I read View of the Hebrews and B. H. Roberts’ book Studies of the Book of Mormon, to study all issues and make an informed decision with various points of view. No Man Knows My History was also very enlightening.
Later, after I had made the decision to resign my membership, I found podcasts with stories of others who had gone through a similar journey. They were very helpful, and this is why I decided to submit my story to the THRIVE project.
Professional counseling was the most helpful resource of all. I found it a safe space to discuss my past without judgment or bias. I could explore my feelings, think for myself, and feel free from the mind control that had tied me down for so many years.
What significant mistakes did you make in your transition?
I can’t think of anything I would have done differently. My transition worked out well, all things considered. Out of respect for my immediate family members, all of whom are active members in the LDS Church, I did not discuss my faith journey. They are adults who can make their own decisions about their beliefs. I was, only a few years ago, a strong LDS Church member. As such, I understand their perspective and will always be mindful of their feelings.
How has leaving Mormonism affected your family relationships, friendships, job, neighbor relationships, social life, etc.?
My relationships with immediate family members (mother, siblings, and adult children) have been different since leaving the LDS Church. This is mainly because I also came out as a gay man and married my husband in the years following. The two are connected, so it is difficult to separate them. I continually reach out to family, visit regularly, and show my love. Family will always be important to me. Some have been supportive, but I can tell they are hesitant, and I understand why. Sometimes I ask myself: if I were still an active member of the LDS Church, how would I treat my brother, or my father, if they came out as gay late in life and left Mormonism? Thinking about this question gives me perspective. It helps me to appreciate their anxiety and exercise sensitivity. Overall, I have been pleasantly surprised by their level of acceptance and expressions of love. I have attended LDS Church meetings with my adult children and mom a few times. I love to sing hymns and remember the good times. I do not attack or criticize the LDS Church, but instead appreciate everything I gained by being a member.
My husband came to the U.S. from Brazil as a legal permanent resident one year ago. We had a nice family dinner at a restaurant in Napa to welcome him and celebrate our first year wedding anniversary. All four of my adult children came, as well as one brother, a nephew, a niece, and a few cousins. It was a memorable and special evening. Everyone saw how happy and in love I am now. Some old friends have reached out, and their reactions have been very positive for the most part. I moved to a new city and job two years ago, so leaving Mormonism had no impact on my livelihood, neighbor relationships, or social life. I made a few new friendships, some with people who have experienced a similar journey as my own, and that feels awesome. Some old friendships have also been renewed after people hear my story and reach out with love and support.
How have you navigated communication and relationships with believing family and friends? Any tips to keeping those people in your life?
My approach is showing love to everyone regardless of their beliefs. Most people have reciprocated and most relationships have continued. Very few ever mention religious beliefs, though I get the impression that such topics are intentionally avoided. I can only think of one or two old friendships where I reached out via email or social media and received no response. My view is to be loving in all I say and do, while nurturing relationships with family and friends as much as possible. If they choose to continue the relationship, I’m happy to do so. If not, I don’t let it bother me and respect their decision.
Which (if any) of your former Mormon beliefs/behaviors have you retained after your faith crisis?
I’m still the same person I have always been. My personality is the same. I treat everyone with love, respect, and kindness. I try every day to be a good person and make a positive difference in the world. Personal integrity is very important to me. This is one of the primary reasons I left Mormonism and came out as a gay man – I had to live an authentic life. I had to follow what I believe to be true, who I really am. My mantra in life is the same, to help others achieve their full potential. I still believe that peace is better than conflict, and that every human being should be treated equally. I still listen to the Tabernacle Choir. I love the music and like to see old friends from my BYU A Cappella Choir days on-screen. I still believe in eternal progression, but in a different way.
In what ways have your beliefs/behaviors changed after your faith crisis?
I don’t attend church services very often. Sometimes I go with my husband who was raised Catholic. I now read a wider range of books by various authors on all kinds of subjects. I invest more for retirement, but still give to worthy causes occasionally. My attitudes about people have changed – I am more accepting of diverse cultures, beliefs, and lifestyles in the world. I am also more sensitive to others’ needs. Now I feel satisfied by doing my best, and I avoid becoming preoccupied with trying to be perfect. I am happier than ever and find more joy and fulfillment in every moment. I appreciate today with all its gifts and have more peace in my heart.
What are your thoughts/beliefs now about God and Jesus?
My understanding of God is evolving. I draw upon a wide variety of traditions while learning and growing spiritually. I believe in a universal power that binds everything together, brings order to the solar system and beyond, and is a source of life. Every day I seek to better understand the ways in which I connect with, and am a part of, this power.
How do you now make sense of death and the afterlife?
I still believe that life continues on when our mortal bodies die – though I am unsure about how, or in what form. I believe and hope that the reciprocal, unconditional love my husband and I share will continue after death separates us, if that is what we both want. I still believe in eternal relationships, but in a different way than before. If we want to be with someone after this life, true love will find a way, as it always does, to make that happen. I believe that love is the most powerful force on earth, in the entire universe.
Without the church telling you what is “right” and “wrong,” how do you establish your own sense of morality/right/wrong?
My moral compass is partially based on truths I learned as a member of the LDS Church, combined with other ideas that I glean from reading, learning, and life experiences. I know that treating others with love and respect makes everyone feel better, so that is the foundation of my personal code of ethics. I believe in marital fidelity and being honest in all I say and do. I also believe that there is good in every person.
Do you still value “spirituality” in your life (spirituality defined as “connection to something bigger than yourself”), and if so, what are your main sources of spiritual fulfillment?
For me, spirituality is an understanding of how I connect to the universe and everything in it. One source of this is daily meditation. Another is deep discussion and conversation with my husband, who is a very spiritual person with much wisdom. Another source is nature – whether appreciating the beauty of a sunrise, hearing the sound of wild animals early in the morning, walking quietly among the mountains and redwoods, or looking up at the moon and the stars.
To what extent have you found healthy and meaningful community to replace the role of the ward/stake in your life?
I have not sought a replacement for the ward or stake in my life. I do serve in the community as a volunteer board member and try to make a positive difference through my service. In my previous city, I helped take care of rescue horses that were abused or abandoned, and that work was very fulfilling. I believe in giving back to the communities where we live. It is something we can all do through using our time and talents to help others.
What meaning and purpose does life have to you now that you no longer believe in Mormonism?
I believe that my life has more meaning and purpose than it did before. I find a great deal of personal satisfaction in making my husband, and others around me, happy. This includes family, friends, neighbors, and the stranger I encounter in the street. I now live each day to its fullest. I worry less about the future and whether or not I will be worthy of higher blessings in an afterlife. Now I see the beauty and purpose in simple, everyday things.
If you are a parent, how has losing your faith in Mormonism affected how you parent?
I left the LDS Church after all of my four children were well into adulthood. While they may see me differently now as a father, I still reach out often to express love. I send gifts, letters, emails, and text messages. I visit and express how proud I am of them and their accomplishments. I say “I love you” more often and am more positive in my outlook as a parent.
If you are married or have a significant other, how has leaving Mormonism affected this relationship?
I met and married my husband after leaving Mormonism, so leaving had a very positive effect on my marriage relationship. We would not be together had I not left. I told him everything about my Mormon past. He knows more than anyone else does about me – my hopes and dreams, my life struggles, and why I am the person I have become. He has helped me so much in the last three years with his kind, trusting ways. He is willing to listen whenever I explain certain tendencies and their connection to my Mormon upbringing. He respects the beliefs of my family and helps me to navigate life’s challenges every day. It feels very good to have such a loving husband that I can share life with. I finally found true love and all that goes with it to make our relationship so beautiful.
How has leaving Mormonism affected your mental health?
It was a struggle, but leaving Mormonism has allowed me to be my true, authentic self. That has been a big positive for my mental health. I am happier and more satisfied with my life. I feel more loved, more fulfilled, and more at peace. Sometimes I feel like a phoenix rising from the ashes of my past life – flying in the blue sky and beyond with the freedom to be who I really am.
How has leaving Mormonism affected your sexual health?
Leaving Mormonism was related to my sexual identity as a gay man, so it has made all the difference in the world. Now, sexual expression is a regular, important part of my marriage relationship. I have discovered that sex is one of the most beautiful and intense experiences human beings are capable of. It provides a way to connect spiritually with each other and the universe.
What aspects of your life are better after Mormonism (or Orthodox Mormonism)?
Every aspect of life is better. In spite of being at a stage of life when most people slow down, my physical health is even better. I have renewed energy and ability to do more than before. My attitude is increasingly positive, and I can’t wait for the next adventure life has to offer. I wake up with excitement and look forward to the simple tasks in life – like taking care of the garden or going to work. I have less stress, more happiness, and a greater desire to help people around me.
What is your life still missing? In what ways could your life still be improved without Mormonism?
The only aspect I worry about is relationships with my adult children and grandchildren. I sense that they see me differently now. While I understand why, this is still something I think about and work hard to overcome (to the extent that I can). My hope is, that with time, they will see that I have become a better person. That they will accept me for who I am – a happier, more well-adjusted person than I was before. As the windows open up and the walls come down just a little bit, I will reach in with both arms and embrace them.
What final advice would you give folks who are transitioning?
Take each day at a time, don’t rush things, be thorough in your research, ask questions, get professional help, think carefully, ponder, and meditate. Only you are responsible for your happiness in life – no one else. I hope you are true to yourself and find what you are seeking. Remember that love is the most powerful force in the universe.