From 30 years Mormon to Forever Orthodox

by Isaac Bell

I was raised Mormon, as was Rachel, my wife. Early in our marriage we had a stillborn son. Our bishop called us into his office to tell us that God had not yet revealed the point at which a fetus becomes alive and the church therefore does not consider our son to be a person. This shocked me. I thought the whole point of having a prophet was to provide guidance from God on important moral issues, and given how much time legislatures spend debating when life begins I figured that would be an important topic for a prophet to speak on.

Over the next couple of weeks, while Rachel was reeling from the bishop’s lack of empathy, I was struggling to understand why the prophets no longer prophesy. I started to think of a couple of things from the past: first was the Hofmann forgeries, second was the event that led me to leave BYU. While at BYU I attended a fireside where Dallin H. Oaks spoke. During his talk he claimed that there was no such thing as a rape survivor because if a woman survives then she consented. I thought maybe I had heard wrong until a year later I read something similar in Spencer W. Kimball’s Miracle of Forgiveness1. A few weeks after the fireside it came out that a 17 year old girl was gang raped by several members of the football team2 and the coach knew about what had happened before the season started but they were still allowed to play. I ended up transferring to a local college because I was disgusted with the way BYU handled what happened.

After that other issues that had bothered me but had manage to shelve in the back of my mind started coming back into the foreground. I dealt with it the way the church prescribes: spend some time reading church approved inspirational literature and then pray and ask if the church is true. If you get a good feeling afterwards the church must be true and you can safely put whatever was bothering you back on the shelf. However every time I did this the issues would return after a few weeks.

Early in 2016, after years of going through that cycle over and over again, it got to the point that I was beginning to wonder if that whole time I might have been answering my own prayers. After reading James 1:5-6;

“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind.”

I decided that instead of asking a simple yes/no question, I should make a more open ended request. And so I got on my knees and prayed:

“My beloved Father in Heaven, please lead me to your true church. If it is the LDS (Mormon) Church then please strengthen my faith. If it is another church then please guide me to it.”

Immediately it became impossible to attend church. I would somehow sleep through the alarm clock, something I thought was impossible for me to do before. If my wife did manage to wake me I would have a severe migraine. Temple attendance also became impossible. Something would always come up. I’d have car trouble or I’d be called into work.

Scripture study using church issued study guides or the topical guide became impossible as well. I would lose dexterity in my fingers preventing me from flipping to the referenced passage and I would not be able to remember references long enough to get to them. This forced me to read entire chapters at a time. It quickly became clear that in the proper context verses did not mean what I had been taught they meant. I also started to find contradictions between the Bible and the Book of Mormon.

After a few weeks of studying the Bible I ended all efforts towards trying to strengthen my faith (as a Mormon) in Mormonism and started researching other churches (the Book of John pretty much ended any lingering belief I had in Mormonism). I’d visited other churches in the past, with friends or when overseas. I’d been to several Protestant churches, a couple of other flavors of Mormonism, a synagogue, a Hindu temple, a Wiccan circle, a Catholic church in Italy and a couple of Orthodox churches (at the time I thought Greek and Russian Orthodoxy were different religions) but suddenly found myself ashamed that I had never learned anything about these religions. I wanted to start visiting different churches each Sunday and learn what I could. I mentioned to my Rachel a couple of times wanting to occasionally visit other churches but it became clear that she would not tolerate me attending any church but hers. I had not yet told her of my unbelief but I suspect that she had guessed it.

Given I probably wouldn’t be able attend churches very often without putting undue strain on our marriage, I decided that my best course of action would be use scripture and internet to narrow the list down from any local Christian church down to just a couple. Remembering the Mormon apostasy narrative I decided that any restorationist or Protestant church would depend on something similar. I figured that by studying apostasy prophesies I could either eliminate the Apostolic churches or all the Protestant/restorationist churches. Studying every apostasy related prophesy I could find I came to the conclusion that nearly all of them dealt with either the Jews rejection of Christ or the last days shortly before the second coming and handful of others dealt with some other event and a few others being to vague for me to interpret. After multiple rereadings of Matthew 24 I finally eliminated all but Catholicism and Orthodoxy.

Finally, I was able to convince my Rachel to accompany me to a Catholic Church during stake conference weekend. In the past I had been to a Catholic Church in Italy that practiced the Latin rite. I was surprised that the church we were visiting had a different liturgy. Watching Rachel try and wrestle a communion wafer from the priest’s hand made clear two important facts that I had not considered before: she had never been to another church before3 and the idea of a closed communion was completely foreign to her. At the end of liturgy the priest announced that there would be coffee and donuts and that he would be available if any visitors had any questions. This pleased me as I had hoped for a chance to visit with him. Unfortunately Rachel was not in the mood to stay and free donuts couldn’t change her mind.

A month later, once Rachel was able to laugh about what happened at the Catholic Church, I was able to convince her to accompany to a Greek parish during general conference weekend. Having attended a Greek parish in Kansas City and spent a summer in Russia studying art I was able to explain to her a lot better what was going to happen. This visit went much better than the last. The parishioners noticed her confusion and were kind enough to help explain what was going on and brought her blessed bread. She still wasn’t in the mood to stay and visit afterwards and made clear her distaste for liturgical worship but thankfully the parishioners made a very positive impression on her.

I was having trouble figuring out what doctrinal the differences between Catholicism and Orthodoxy were on my own. Catholicism bothered me though. After over 30 years of Mormonism I just could not make myself feel comfortable with the infallibility of the Pope. In the end it ended up being history that became the deciding factor. Getting nowhere trying to understand the doctrine of the two churches I decided to study the changes that occurred throughout their histories.

The first thing of interest that I found was the filioque. After reading about how it came about and its significance I decided that its introduction was wrong.

Second was the great schism. This one took a little studying but after studying the histories of both churches post schism I once again decided that Rome was in the wrong.

Having finally decided on Orthodoxy I came to the point where I could not proceed further without talking to my wife. I was afraid, knowing that mixed faith families involving Mormonism usually don’t end well, and knowing that she was in no way tolerant of other religions. One evening I finally told her that I was leaving the church and joining Orthodoxy. It unfortunately went about as well as expected: she cried and told me

“I would never leave you no matter what, even though you have condemned yourself to hell and broken our family apart.”

I attended Vespers the following Saturday and spoke with Fr Micheal about converting afterwards. He told me that because of my religious background and because I’m converting without my wife, he would prefer that he have a chance to meet with my wife and I attend regularly for a few months before I enter the catechumenate, which I agreed to.

The following Saturday Rachel accompanied me to Vespers. She met briefly with Fr Michael afterwards. She was considerably more upbeat after the meeting and shared with me that she didn’t know that priests were allowed to make jokes or laugh and was happy that he didn’t try to convert her.

At some point the following week she asked me why I would leave Mormonism. She was surprised when I told her I’d email her the list. She would later tell me that she expected it to be a couple of trivial things like I got bored in meetings or I like icons. I emailed a long list of things that I had found when I was researching Mormonism and some of the references. The list put her into a stunned silence and I found her crying several times over the next few days. After the crying stopped I asked if she had any questions about the list. She told me that it was all stuff that she had never heard about before and told me that she found some of the polygamy issues especially disturbing:

  • Joseph Smith’s child brides and
  • wives already married to living husbands.

I explained to her that while she’ll never hear about such things in Sunday school, the church does not deny it, they just try to spin it. I showed her an essay on the church’s official website4 that tried to justify Helen Mar Kimball’s marriage to Joseph Smith by saying that it was

“several months before her 15th birthday”

rather than just say that she was 14.

She was clearly disturbed by what she had learned. She eventually asked me what she should do. I told her that if she ever wants to feel comfortable about the church again she would have to investigate it carefully. I added that if the church’s claims true then they would hold up to investigation, and if she investigated the church and found it to be true then nothing bad would happen and her testimony would be strengthened. Sensing that she was overwhelmed I gave her a copy of James E Talmage’s The Great Apostasy5 and suggested that she could start by reading that and following all the sources, reading entire chapters to make sure he wasn’t using scripture or church fathers out of context.

She would later tell me me that a major turning point in her conversion came a few days after this. Turns out my having left the church and my list of reasons triggered a faith crisis for her, which she chose to deal with by going to the Mormon temple. She spent two hours in the celestial room praying if the church was true but was unable to feel the spirit the entire time. Afterwards she went to Liberty Jail hoping to feel the spirit there, but all she could think of was flaws in the Mormon church’s version of events and how she had never before noticed that the great spiritual experience of being at Liberty Jail was nothing but lights and mannequins.

One day I came home to work to find my wife crying. Initially the only explanation that she could manage was “our family.” After a few minutes she was able to calm down enough to say

“if it’s true then we won’t be a family in heaven.”

I held her and explained as lovingly as I could

“I love you and I hope you love me. There is nothing that could stop me from loving you in heaven.”

After a couple of weeks she started to attend Vespers regularly.

She eventually asked Fr. Michael to explain the Trinity to her. She became upset when he told her that Christ, while he was on the Earth, was also in heaven with the Father. The whole way home all she could talk about was how ridiculous the Trinity is and how could Christ be in two places at the same time. When we got home I allowed her to finish venting and explained to her that in Mormonism Elohim was once a mortal man on another Earth and became a god, thus making him a created being and therefore subject to the laws of physics. The God worshiped by most Christians, however was not created and was the one who created the laws of physics and therefore not subject to it. That seemed to satisfy her, though it would still take her some time to accept it.

One Saturday a month later she broke down in tears. She confessed to me that when I told her I was leaving the church she did not know how to handle it so she asked her bishop. Her bishop’s response was to try and convince her that I was abusing her and she needed to divorce me and ever since then her bishop, visiting teachers and family has been trying convince her to leave me. She said that she felt that she was under a lot of pressure to decide right away. I asked her how she felt about Orthodoxy, to which she replied “I don’t know.” I then asked her how she felt about Mormonism, to which she also replied “I don’t know.” I then produced a copy of the Creed and went statement by statement and asked her if she agreed. She agreed with each statement. I then reread the Creed statement by statement and explained the problems that statement had with Mormon theology.

Later that day a friend She had not spoken to in over a year called. They had stopped speaking when her friend left the Mormon church. Rachel explained to her that I too had left the church and she was trying to make up her mind about leaving also. Her friend suggested that she read the CES Letter6. That evening after she had read half of the CES Letter we both requested our names removed from the church’s membership records7.

The next day Rachel asked Fr Michael to add her to the Catechism class that was starting that week.

Notes

1. Spencer W. Kimball, Miracle of Forgiveness, Chapter Fourteen, https://web.archive.org/web/20121024074759/http://www.lds.org/braille/The%20Miracle%20of%20Forgiveness.txt

2. https://www.deseretnews.com/article/595110063/4-former-Y-players-indicted-in-scandal.html

3. Rachel, while proofreading this let me know that she had once been to another church in the past. While on her mission she and the other missionaries in the area thought it would be go to a Southern Baptist church and attempt to win converts there through love bombing. Not only did this attempt fail but they themselves got love bombed.

4. https://www.lds.org/topics/plural-marriage-in-kirtland-and-nauvoo?lang=eng

5. The Great Apostasy is available on Project Gutenberg (http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/35514). Talmage mostly argues that the very existence of heresy is proof of the apostasy.

6. The CES Letter can be found at https://cesletter.org/

7. We used the free service QuitMormon (https://quitmormon.com/) set up by a lawyer who also tried resigning and had difficulty doing so.

 

From 30 Years Mormon to Forever Orthodox

Comments

  1. “.Remembering the Mormon apostasy narrative I decided that any restorationist or Protestant church would depend on something similar. I figured that by studying apostasy prophesies I could either eliminate the Apostolic churches or all the Protestant/restorationist churches.”
    Not the first time there’s been a conversion story with something like this, containing mention of “The Great Apostasy’. Well the best antidote to that particular fiction, would have to be ‘The Apostasy That Wasn’t’ by Rod Bennett .
    Admittedly this (along with the earlier ‘Four Witnesses’ to which it’s a semi sequel) was written by a Roman Catholic and is published by Catholic Answers Press, but it’s by no means biased toward Roman Catholicism, so it’s just as useful for Orthodox needing help with rebutting The Great Apostasy myth.

  2. Glory to God in all things! May He grant you and Rachel many years!

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