|Text of address by Richard Packham presented at the annual conference of the Exmormon Foundation, Salt Lake City, Utah, October 22, 2005.|
It's a great honor to be asked to speak to you at this conference. But it is
also a challenge: The other speakers at this conference got you when you were
fresh and rested. But an after-dinner speaker gets an audience that has had a
long and strenuous day. You've also maybe had a couple of drinks before
dinner, and a heavy meal, and you're sitting on the same uncomfortable chairs
that you have come to hate. You're thinking primarily of how late it is, and how
much you would like to either go to bed or get to the hospitality suite. And it
now falls to me to enlighten you, entertain you, and keep you awake.|
I considered bringing my accordion and singing a few songs. With Tal Bachman on the program later, I could say "I opened for Tal Bachman." But my wife is here, and she doesn't like the sound of the accordion. I have to practice when she's not in the house. She loved that "Far Side" cartoon that showed the people entering heaven, and Saint Peter was saying, "Welcome to Heaven! Here's your harp!" And the next panel showed the people entering hell, and the devil was saying "Welcome to hell! Here's your accordion!" I guess I'll never be able to take up the bagpipes.
I thought about telling you some funny stories. I often thought I would like to be a stand-up comic. That way I would know why people are laughing at me. My wife's reaction was, "You couldn't do it - do they have sit-down comics?" She also said, "You know, stand-up comics work at night clubs. The shows usually don't start before nine o'clock at night. That's when you're usually standing in the kitchen in your pajamas, warming up a mug of milk."
"Besides, you're too old," she said. "What about George Burns? He was an old guy." I said. "Yeah, but he was funny!"
This is the third time that I have been invited to be a speaker at an Exmormon conference. Either the committee really likes to hear me talk, or they are hoping that the third time's the charm, and this time I'll get it right. I noticed that a lot of you were not at any of those previous conferences, so I guess I can use some of the same material!
The first time I spoke to an Exmormon conference, about four and a half years ago, I talked a little bit about sex, and that was apparently interesting enough that I didn't notice anyone nodding off. On the second occasion, I gave a brilliant talk about the rules of evidence, logical fallacies, and the syllogism, and that had people snoring. So I won't talk about that.
When I asked the committee what I should talk about, they suggested that you might like to hear about some of my experiences since I left the church and since I got involved in the "recovery from mormonism" groups. So the title of my talk is "Reflections of an Old Apostate in a Brave New World."
I'm the "old apostate," of course. The word "old" is one of those English words that have more than one meaning. It can be the opposite of "young" or the opposite of "new." I am an old apostate in both meanings of the word.
I am certainly not young any more. Getting old is something that happens to everybody, unless you die. But old age sneaks up on you. You don't realize it's happening to you. Suddenly it hits you. This is how it happened to me. I was buying something in a store. The price was six dollars, and I gave her a ten. She handed me back four dollars and sixty cents. "You've given me too much change," I said. "That's your senior discount!"
I also knew I was in trouble in 1992 when Bill Clinton was elected president. It wasn't anything political - I just realized that for the first time in my life I was older than the current president of the United States. And I also realized that I was older than my doctor, my dentist, my insurance agent. They are all kids. My barber is older than I am, but I don't think he will last much longer.
Last June there was a long article in the Wall Street Journal on aging, with the latest research on why we age, how to slow it down and how to extend our human life expectancy. Obviously I'm at a point where such articles really interest me. Scientists now believe that the maximum possible human life span is about 120 years. The only reason so few of us actually reach that age is because we die first. I think I could have figured that out, and I'm not a scientist. The article gave suggestions about how to reduce the effects of aging, and it was the usual advice: eat healthy foods, exercise more, do not abuse alcohol. I'm good on that last one. I would not think of abusing alcohol. My wine is stored in a cool place, every bottle on its side, and I never, ever shake the bottle.
I am also an old apostate in the other meaning: I am not a new or recent apostate. I probably left the church before many of you were even born. It was about 1957 - 48 years ago. After three years of intensive research trying to prove that the church was true, it finally dawned on me that it was just a man- made religion. Until that moment it had never occurred to me that there was any possibility it wasn't true. I simply knew that it was true. I had never asked God about it, because you don't ask God to tell you something you already know.
That revelation that the church wasn't true - I call it a revelation - cost me my marriage and family: my Mormon wife left me and took the three young children.
The church I left in the late 50s was quite different from the church today. And I am not talking about all the dozens of additional revelations which have been received by the prophets since then - well, I guess there has only been one, really, letting the Blacks have the priesthood. It was just different:
When I left, David O. McKay was president. Church membership had not yet reached two million. It was not a wealthy church. There were only ten temples. And you needed a separate recommend for each temple.
And the temples then were so different. In those days you had to wear a special temple garment for the endowment, with a little collar, sleeves to the wrists and legs to the ankles, with the closure in front. No buttons or snaps - it was held together with four ribbon ties. The everyday garment was also different - no two-piece garments then, and the markings were actually cut through the fabric like buttonholes, not just sewed on.
When you did an endowment for the dead, you did the whole thing, including the washing and anointing. And they really washed you - you took off the shield and hung it on a hook and you had to bring your own towel.
And of course there were no movie projectors in the temples then. I vividly remember going to the Oakland temple open-house in 1964, and when I saw those movie screens I almost started to laugh! Here the most solemn and sacred ceremonies of the church were going to include watching a movie! I was certain then that the church was in apostasy.
The endowment ceremony itself has also changed fundamentally, especially since 1990. In the 50s it included a part where a Protestant minister was depicted as an employee of Lucifer. He usually led us in singing some Protestant hymn, like "Bringing in the Sheaves" or "Shall We Gather by the River." They took that out. They also took out the Five Points of Fellowship at the veil. And they changed the sign of the Second Token of the Melchizedek priesthood from saying "Pay lay ale" to "O God, Hear the words of my mouth."
And of course they removed the penalties, where you made the motion of slitting your throat, ripping open your chest and disemboweling yourself. [INDICATE] I have heard young Mormons deny that there ever were "death penalties" in the endowment.
The church when I left had no family home evening, no three-hour block of meetings, no correlation committee, no "Strengthening the Members" committee, no Blacks (they were called "Negroes" then). A church court was not called a "court of love." Nobody was pressured to go on a mission. I would guess that of worthy young men my age in my Mormon community, only about ten percent went on missions. There was no pressure to go frequently to the temple, since there probably wasn't one nearby. And so not many members had temple recommends. It had not yet become the general certificate of worthiness that it is today.
When I left the church, the Book of Abraham papyri were still lost, Mark Hofmann had not yet sold his forgeries to the prophets of god, the other versions of the first vision had not been discovered, there was no FARMS yet, because there was no Utah Lighthouse. In fact, I was chatting with Sandra Tanner a few years ago, and she mentioned that she had attended the dedication of the Los Angeles Temple. Which means that I have been out of the church longer than the Tanners! I'm a really old apostate!
And there was no internet! I had to research my way out of the church without the Internet, and without the wonderful reprints from the Tanners. I was fortunate, however, because I had excellent access to good libraries at the universities where I was studying, especially the Deering Library at Northwestern University in Illinois, which has an excellent collection on Mormon history.
Once I had left the church, I had no great anger or bitterness toward the church or its leaders; sure, they had messed up my marriage, but I eventually recovered, remarried a wonderful woman who knew nothing about Mormons (she thought Mormons and Mennonites were about the same thing). And I got on with my life. I saw the church and its claims as an intellectual problem, and I assumed that others did, too. I didn't even know any other exmormons.
Over the years I followed developments in Mormonism when they showed up in the news. Then in 1996 our small town finally got connected to the Internet. And what does any Mormon or exmormon do soon after they realize what the Internet can do? You do a search for "Mormon" or "exmormon."
And I soon found Eric Kettunen's website at www.exmormon.org. Do you remember the feeling you got when you found Eric's website and started reading the stories of people who were just like you? Thank you, Eric! I subscribed to the e-mail list that Eric and some others had set up, and I felt right at home. And I have been subscribed there ever since.
I had put together for my own use a listing of Joseph Smith's failed prophecies, based partly on a list compiled and printed privately by exmormon Dick Baer, and I posted that to the e-mail group. Eric picked it up and put it on his website, and my career as an anti-Mormon writer had begun.
Like most of us who have Mormon families, it was important to me that they understand why I had left the church. Some of us write long papers to hand out to family. Although most Mormon family members won't read it, it's still a good thing to do. It's cathartic, and it helps us clarify our own ideas.
A few years ago my younger brother told me how great a blow it had been for him when I left the church, when he was a teenager. I thought he was inviting me to tell him about why I left. But no, he quickly interrupted me and said, "Richard, I don't give a damn why you left the church!" And I knew he meant it, because he said "damn." I was so frustrated that he refused to hear what I had to say that I gave an outlet to my frustration by writing a parable, "The Man Who Bought A House." It's about a man who buys a beautiful old house. When his brother asks him if he had the house inspected, the man says that the real estate agent had inspected the house and said it was just fine. The brother noses around and discovers that the foundation is full of dry rot that has been covered with paint. The man only gets mad when the brother tells him.
When I put that parable on my new website, I was astonished at the wide audience it reached. I was beginning to realize the power of the Internet. I got dozens of e-mails, some of them asking me what it meant, others wanting permission to copy it. It is now at about 25 places on the web, including Christian websites, atheist websites, a paint manufacturer's website, and a dog breeder's website, where the webmaster is encouraging dog breeders to examine the genetic foundation of their breeding stock.
Yes, I started a website. That's another thing that a lot of exmormons do. We either write a book or put up a website. I haven't written a book, because there are already so many excellent books out there by exmormons. Also, I would probably never finish a book. Of course the same consideration did not stop me from doing my website. There were - and are - many excellent websites critical of Mormonism, and I take my hat off to most of them. My website is pretty minimal compared to the Tanners' Utah LIghthouse, to rpcman's huge collection at lds-mormon.com, to Eric's exmormon.org, and too many others to name.
The next thing I wrote was what I called my "investigator's tract" - a short working summary of Mormonism that could be handed to investigators to give them tools for checking out the missionaries' story. Its title is "To Those Who Are Investigating Mormonism: What the Missionaries Don't Tell You." It summarizes, in a very factual, straightforward and non-argumentative way, what the missionaries tell investigators about Mormonism. Then follows a point-by- point listing of each of those claims and what the missionaries DON'T tell the investigator, with numerous links to websites with the facts. It also summarizes what life as a Mormon will be like for the convert. Again, non-argumentative, just facts, like giving up coffee, paying tithing, three hour meetings, special underwear, many callings, and so on.
Eric also posted this on his exmormon.org website, and so it also got a lot of attention. It has been copied on dozens of other websites, and has been translated into six foreign languages (that I know of): German, Italian, Portuguese, Finnish, Russian and Danish. And I did not solicit the translations - people came to me and asked if they could translate it. (If any of you are native Spanish speakers, there is not yet a Spanish translation.)
And the effect of that investigators' tract has been heartening. My brother the bishop said that his son, my nephew, encountered it in the hands of an investigator family while he was on his mission in New Zealand. They asked him, "Elder Packham, do you know the Packham who wrote this?" and he had to confess, "That's my uncle!" A non-Mormon mother recently wrote me to say that her husband had used it as an outline to talk their recently converted son out of the church. I have had hundreds of e-mails with similar stories, crediting that little tract with keeping someone out or getting someone out of Mormonism.
I added some more original articles to my website and volunteered to have my name put on the "helpers" list at www.exmormon.org, and so I have received a lot of e-mail over the years. I usually have to spend most of my morning reading and responding to my mail.
In the beginning I did not really have a negative picture of the church - it was simply not true. I took it for granted that the church does a lot of good, and if you don't really care whether it's true or not, then it's as good a place as any to be. But as I read the hundreds of e-mails I kept getting, as well as the posts on the e-mail lists and the many stories added at exmormon.org, I changed my mind. Some days I would find myself in front of my computer screen, hardly able to see the screen for the tears, reading about the devastation, misery, heartache, and broken lives that were the product of this organization and its members and leaders. And I finally had to admit that however much good the church may do, however many people it may have helped, it is, on balance, evil. That's my response to what I have come to call the "Hitler built the Autobahn" argument. When I lived in Germany in the '60s, I occasionally heard old Germans say, "Well, Hitler made a lot of mistakes, but he pulled us out of the Depression, he made jobs for the unemployed, he got rid of the petty crooks, he opposed Communism, he built the Autobahn, ....."
I am certainly not saying that Hinckley or Joseph Smith is comparable to Hitler, or that Mormonism is as evil as National Socialism. But one cannot praise the good and overlook or forgive the evil. Mormons will say, of course, that naturally those people say bad things about the church, to excuse their "real" reason for leaving: - "one cannot expect to hear anything good about the church from its critics." I think of them not as critics of the church, but rather its victims. Until the internet, they were isolated, alone, and generally silent. Probably the average tithe-paying Mormon is unaware of their existence and of what the church did to damage so many lives (and they would probably prefer NOT to know). But then, the average patriotic German was unaware of the gas chambers, too.
The first time I read a story on exmormon.org from a victim of church- related child abuse I was outraged and almost unbelieving. That could not have happened! At least it must have been a very unusual case. But I soon learned that it was not. The incidence of child sexual abuse by priesthood holders is one of the nastiest secrets of the church. I got an e-mail from a man a few years younger than I who had grown up in my hometown, knew my parents and my younger brothers, and had even lived in the same ward where I grew up. He told me that as a boy he had been regularly molested sexually by some of the leaders in that ward, and although he didn't like it, he simply assumed that this was the way things worked. His Mormon wife told him that she had suffered the same kind of thing from many of the male members of her family, a prominent Mormon family in a nearby town. I had no idea. The sexual abuse of children by Mormon priesthood holders seems to be on a scale comparable to what has been uncovered in the Catholic church. The main difference is that the Mormon abuse is still covered up.
A surprising number of my e-mails are from devout Mormon teenagers, obviously just developing a "testimony," who write to tell me that they are offended by my website, and that I obviously don't know anything about Mormonism. One wrote, "Isn't it amazing that a 13-year-old girl like me can know more about Mormonism than an adult like you?" Yes, it is amazing. Almost unbelievable.
Sadder are the teenagers who write and tell me that they have indeed figured out that the church is not true, but who are stuck at home or dependent on parents for support through college, which often means support only while at BYU.
Also sad are the young people who are not Mormon but are madly in love with a Mormon and want to know whether there will be a problem. I get so many of those that I put together a Frequently Asked Questions file on my website with comments from people who did that and later regretted it. Yes, there will be problems. Often they insist that the Mormon beloved says that the difference in religion is unimportant. Maybe not now. But in a few years, when the children arrive, when the pressure from the Mormon in-laws increases, there will be stormy seas.
Another kind of e-mail I frequently get is from non-Mormon parents who are devastated at the announcement by their son or daughter that they are going to be baptized into the Mormon church. Sometimes they have already been baptized, without telling the parents. Often the parents are taken by complete surprise, since they have raised their child as a devout Baptist or Catholic or Evangelical. There were so many such parents that I finally started an e-mail list for them at Yahoo called "Mormons Have My Child" which now has over 150 subscribers.
Those are angry people. No exmormon can outdo these parents in their hatred, anger and disgust at the Mormon church. Their anguish and sorrow is heart-wrenching. I wish that the general authorities could read some of their posts, especially when a child marries in the temple and these loving parents are made to wait outside. Mormons can be so cruel at those times. One non- Mormon mother wrote that her daughter's Mormon mother-in-law came out of the temple after the ceremony and told her how sad it was that she couldn't have been there at such an important event in her daughter's life. She replied, probably through clenched teeth, "I was there at the most important event, when she was born." One Mormon mother-in-law tried to explain to the non-Mormon mother of the bride about why non-Mormon parents are excluded, and when the explanation wasn't working as intended, she said, "Well, that's just the way it is!" When the non-Mormon parents arranged a reception for that couple, complete with an open bar, the Mormon mother-in-law objected, saying that the Mormons would be offended by liquor at the reception. The mother replied, "Well, that's just the way it is!"
One Mormon bishop had a great solution to that problem. When the non- Mormon parents told him of their hurt and sorrow that they would be excluded from witnessing the ceremony, the bishop decreed that NOBODY - including the "worthy" Mormon friends and family - could be there, and that temple workers would act as the witnesses. Of course the Mormons felt that was unfair, and were very hurt.
I know of one man who keeps a photograph of his daughter in her wedding dress on his desk at work, and uses every opportunity to show it to visitors and comment how he was not allowed to see her get married because the Mormons considered him unworthy. He considers it great negative publicity for the church.
We have had some successes in that "Mormons Have My Child" group. One son of non-Mormon parents had just married in the temple the month previous. His dad took him on a weekend fishing trip. The dad had done his Internet research. As they drove to the lake, the father said that he was thinking about buying a new pickup truck. I don't want to name the actual make of truck - I'll call it by a fictional name, a "Lightning." He knew that his son's favorite make was a Toyota. The son was surprised and shocked. He said that the Consumer Reports on the Lightning were bad, that there were lots of problems with it. The dad replied that he hadn't bothered to check Consumer Reports because the Lightning dealer had told him it was a good truck, and he felt good about the idea of a Lightning. "But Dad! You should always check Consumer Reports before you buy a truck!" "How about before you join a church?" The son got the point. So they fished, and they talked all weekend about what the father had learned about Mormonism. When the son got back home, he told his new wife that he was leaving the church. She broke down in sobs, called her mother, and the mother came right over and moved her out. So much for "families are forever!"
Occasionally I get e-mails from Mormon missionaries who are troubled by their experiences in the mission field and have come to believe no longer. One was near the end of his mission, so he postponed telling anyone of his apostasy until he got home. Another had just been a few months in the field, and didn't know what he was going to do. He discussed it with his companion, who decided that he didn't believe it, either. So the two of them were spending their time seeing the sights, listening to rock music, and soaking up the forbidden culture. I haven't heard from them lately - I suspect they were found out and sent home.
I get a lot of e-mail from angry Mormons telling me that all my information is false. I ask them politely to provide me with the correct facts. They rarely reply. Oh, sometimes they try to "explain" things, that the Bible commands us to pay tithing, or that tobacco and coffee really are bad for you, or why the church banned Blacks from the priesthood. I point out that I am not arguing about tithing or coffee, that I am merely telling investigators what they often are not told by the missionaries until after they have committed to baptism.
A lot of Mormons want to know why I take the time to be so critical of the Mormon church. They insist that Mormons don't go around criticizing other religions. Oh, really? I point out to them that I am doing nothing basically different from what Mormon missionaries are doing. They go from door to door, like salesmen, trying to engage people in conversations about religion. Their message is fundamentally this: "Your present religion is false." And that is my message to the Mormons, and to those who are investigating Mormonism, is: "Mormonism is false."
I have also been cursed by the authority of the Melchizedek priesthood. (I have told the story before - how many have already heard it? If I tell it again it will make my talk two minutes longer...)
A very devout and faithful Mormon who had found my website angrily wrote to me and used his supposed authority as a holder of the Melchizedek priesthood to pronounce a curse on me, the same curse with which Alma cursed Korihor in the 30th chapter of the Book of Alma, namely, that I be struck dumb and have no more utterance. And this was to be a sure sign of the power of his God and his priesthood. I immediately wrote him back and used my authority to prophesy that his curse wouldn't work, and that he would soon be giving me excuses why it didn't. I was not struck dumb. I didn't even get a sore throat. When I wrote him this, his first excuse was that it would take effect sometime later. I responded that Alma's curse took effect immediately. His next excuse was that he had not used the words "in the name of Jesus Christ." I suggested that he try it again and use the right words. (Alma hadn't used those words, either, actually.) His next excuse was that he had cursed me in anger, implying, I suppose, that one can curse effectively only if done with love and kindness. His final excuse was that only one priesthood holder at a time has the keys to do such smiting, and he wasn't the one (implying, I guess, that I would have to be taken before Gordon Hinckley, as Korihor was taken before Alma). But as the false priests of Baal could not call down fire from heaven in chapter 18 of I Kings, so the false priests of Mormonism apparently cannot strike anybody dumb. Talk about a sign! And my prophecy was fulfilled!
One Mormon suggested a public debate with me. He lived in Wyoming, and I accepted his challenge and offered to come to Wyoming from Oregon at my own expense. I suggested that we get a non-Mormon lawyer to act as moderator, and that the topic be whether Joseph Smith was a liar. I thought we had it all set up, but he had to cancel because of bad health.
I also offered to debate a Mormon bishop in Saskatchewan who wrote me some very nasty e-mails. He refused on the grounds that I would probably say some things that he would find offensive.
Just like my brother the bishop, who said he really would like to know why I don't believe the gospel, but only if I could tell him my reasons without saying anything critical of the church or the church leaders. Funny how the Mormons want respect and consideration for what they believe, but they don't want the painful truth. As Dave Barry has said, "People who want to share their religious views with you almost never want you to share yours with them."
I also get e-mails from non-Mormons who have found out that the Mormons have baptized their ancestors into the Mormon church. Some are quite indignant and want to know what they can do about it. One man wrote:
I recently saw in a Mormon genealogy that my Great-Great Grandfather, John Ebenezer Riley, was "endowed", "consecrated", or some other term into the Mormon Church. What does this mean? John Riley was a life-long Primitive Baptist and even an Elder of that sect. Is he turning over in his grave at what has been done to his memory?
"If it is any consolation to you and to other descendants of John Riley, the Mormons are devoting tremendous amounts of time, energy and money to doing the same thing to every person who ever lived on this planet. So he is not alone, nor are you. [I then explained the Mormon beliefs about the work for the dead]
"If this bothers you, I suggest you notify the Mormon church authorities at 50 East North Temple Street, Salt Lake City, that you have posthumously baptized Brigham Young into the Primitive Baptists."
Some e-mails are from Mormons who acknowledge that maybe the doctrines of the church are not all true, but it Mormonism is a good way of life and and a good way to raise children. I certainly acknowledge that there are many Mormons who are happy in the church and would be completely lost without it. Just as a diabetic would be lost without the insulin. I tell those folks that my website is not intended for them, but rather for those Mormons who have the vague feeling that something is not right about Mormonism, who have doubts about its claims, who are convinced (by the church) that if they have doubts there is something spiritually wrong with them. The facts on my website enable such people to have confidence in their own insights and impressions - to let them know that they are not "weird" or "wrong" for doubting. And it's also for non-Mormons who are just beginning to investigate Mormonism and who are not getting all sides of the Mormon story, but only the sanitized, "milk before meat" version as presented by the missionaries, and who would not think of joining the church if they knew the whole story. Every religion in the world can boast of adherents who claim that their lives have been improved by their religion. The fact that a medication works does not prove that it is not a placebo.
As for Mormonism being a good place to raise children, I vehemently deny that. Yes, Mormon children are perhaps less likely to do drugs or alcohol, have promiscuous sex, and be disobedient to authority. But there is a terrible price to pay, in guilt, insecurity, and other psychological damage. For more of my views on this subject, see the article on my website, "Raising Children as Mormons." [ http://packham.n4m.org/children.htm]
One of the big lies of Mormonism is about why people leave the church. Mormons generally insist (because the leaders have told them) that the only reasons people leave are because they have sinned, or they want to sin, or they are too weak to keep the commandments, or because some member or leader has offended them.
Well, perhaps the last one has a bit of truth - people do feel offended when they find out they have been lied to!
One new convert stopped going to church because he got the impression that the Mormons think they are better than everybody else. The Mormons would say he was too sensitive or too critical. I think he realized that these arrogant people could not possibly be true followers of Christ.
Another new convert told me that after she went to church a few times wearing her usual tailored slacks, the Relief Society president went out and bought a dress for her. "Why would God care what I wore to church?" she said. She did not go back. (She said it was an ugly dress.) The Mormons would say she was offended. Actually, she was seeing the absurdity of the Mormon view of what is really important in life.
One devout Mormon insisted that he knew a lot of people who had left the church, and his opinion was that whatever reason they might give, the real reason was simply emotional. I think that he has it backwards: it is usually some emotional vulnerability that makes people susceptible to the pretty picture painted by the missionaries. Converts are frequently people who are going through a difficult time in life - young people out on their own with no friends, families who have just lost a loved one in death, people trying to deal with depression, people with no support network. So, people join the church when emotionally vulnerable. They leave the church when they realize that it's a sham and when they have seen how it really works. In other words, people join the church because of their emotional state, their inexperience, and their lack of information. They leave when they have acquired some experience and some knowledge. To paraphrase Mark Twain, they join the church because of what they believe, they leave the church because of what they know.
One big difference between the church and this "exmormon recovery" movement is that we don't mind when people leave us. In fact, that's the whole purpose. When I think back over the eight years or so that I have been involved, I can think of so many people who were very active and very much involved here then. Only a very few are still actively involved. Most have "recovered" and moved on. And that's the way it should be. I have seen exmormons show up among us, full of anger and bitterness - which is quite understandable - and in a few years they have come to terms with their Mormon past and are ready to leave it behind. And they silently "graduate" into normal life. And I am so glad that we have been able to help hundreds and hundreds of people through that difficult time in their lives. Mormons often comment derisively that "people can leave the church, but they can't seem to leave it alone." I think that we help people to learn to leave it alone.
I have received literally hundreds of e-mails thanking me and others involved here for helping them out. This one is typical, from a fresh young apostate, just back from his mission: "I just wanted to thank you again for being such an incredible help. I honestly can't thank you enough for giving me someone to talk to or write to when I needed it most. I feel a peace like never before."
Of course there are some of us, who maintain websites and organize conferences and write books, who "can't leave it alone." That is because somebody has to put the church's feet to the fire, somebody has to reach out a helping hand to the ones who have had to abandon the sinking, stinking ship which they fear is taking them nowhere.
And somebody needs to expose the lies that permeate the operation of this organization. It was the discovery of a lie by a church leader that propelled me out, and as I studied more I discovered - as we all do - more and more lies. While paying lip service to truth ("O say, what is Truth? 'Tis the fairest gem...!") the church and its leaders continue to lie on a major scale, both to the members and to the public at large. I'm not just referring to what I call the "founding lie" - that the Father and Son appeared to young Joe in 1820. That was just the beginning in a continuing stream of lies. Apostle John Taylor on a mission in France in 1850, indignantly denying that the church was practicing polygamy, when he had an entire harem of wives waiting at home for him in Utah. Brigham Young announcing to the world that the massacre at Mountain Meadows did not involve any Mormons. Gordon Hinckley denying that the church teaches that God was once a man, or saying that polygamy is not "doctrinal." Lying seems to be part and parcel of the modus operandi of the church.
The church seems to subscribe to the principle of Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels. He said: "If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the ... lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State." If you substitute the word "church" for "state," you almost have a quote from Boyd K. Packer.
In fact, If you were to sum up in one word what is fundamentally wrong about the Mormon church, that word, I suggest, would be "LIE." What is there about Mormonism that is NOT a lie? "Families are forever." "The church is not racist." "Living the Gospel will bring you happiness." "Paying your tithing will bring you abundant material blessings." "If you have enough faith, God will witness to you that the Book of Mormon is true." "The Mormon church is the fastest-growing faith in the world."
That last one is one that especially galling to me, since it so easily disproven, and yet it is quoted again and again by journalists who rely on the press releases put out by the church. Only recently in the Salt Lake Tribune did Peggy Fletcher Stack have the courage to print an article on church growth claims and say bluntly: "It isn't true!" And just this month a Mormon wrote to me, saying that, yes, some Mormons leave the church, but there are a "lot more" that have stayed than have left. Sorry - he is dead wrong.
[The following material (between the lines) was deleted from the actual presentation because another speaker had presented the same information]
In fact, if you examine the available statistics (you will find them on my website at http://packham.n4m.org/growth.htm) it seems clear that there are now more EX-Mormons than there are Mormons. A recent survey showed that about two and a half million Americans identify themselves as "Mormon." The church, however, has about five and a half million Americans on its membership rolls, a difference of about three million. Who are those three million Americans? Obviously they are on the church rolls only because they are or were officially members. But they do not consider themselves as Mormons now. That means they are EX-Mormons. So two and a half million American Mormons, and three million American Ex-Mormons. And since the church insists that it does not keep on its membership rolls those who have officially resigned, that number - whatever it is - must be added to the three million. (We have an unverified estimate that in the last five years about a hundred thousand Mormons resign every year, making another half million Exmormons.)
In the past ten years we have seen a revolution in the technology of communication - the Internet - comparable, many say, with the revolution five hundred years ago triggered by the invention of the printing press, making knowledge widely available to all. That revolution was a primary factor in the Protestant Reformation, challenging the power of the Catholic church. Our present revolution is having a similar impact on the Mormon church, and we see it in the rapidly increasing number of Mormons leaving the church because of the information they found on the Internet. I think we will soon see major changes in the church, as it shrinks and sees itself more frustrated in its missionary program.
But the Mormon church is not going to disappear. The Catholic church survived the Reformation, and five centuries later is still strong. It seems to be surviving the scandal over the sexual abuse by priests, and the Mormon church will also survive similar exposures and scandals. It lost many members over the Book of Abraham, over the Hofmann forgeries, the public admission by Gordon Hinckley that he doesn't know much about some fundamental Mormon doctrines. But the church is not going to collapse. It will continue to make some converts. It will keep many of its more docile and fearful members. As P. T. Barnum said, "There's a sucker born every minute!"
And as long as it exists, it will continue to destroy lives. I am going to read to you the last part of a story that was posted recently on the exmormon bulletin board by an anonymous Mormon who began to realize the church was a cult when he got his endowment and was required to take so many strange oaths, to "bow [his] head and say 'yes'". But he silenced his inner questions, went on to marry a Mormon girl and start a family. When he fully realized the enormity of the church lies, and shared his feelings with his wife, she gave him the ultimatum: she would not remain married to a man who was not a good Mormon. (This, by the way, is exactly the same ultimatum I got, 45 years ago.) To preserve his marriage and family, he gave in.
This is his message and plea to us: [from http://www.exmormon.org/mormon/mormon413.htm ]
"To those of you on the outside, I beg you, please do not forget us. Please remember the hundreds of thousands of unique, special, beautiful individuals that are currently serving life sentences in the prison of Mormonism. Please do not cease to pray; to whatever God you serve, for our deliverance. Some of us have no hope for redemption or liberation. For the greater good, we willingly sacrifice our souls upon the altar of conformity and orthodoxy. Our pain is real. Our sentence is absolute. To those of you on the outside, I thank you. I thank you for your courage. I thank you for your wisdom and insight. I thank you for your compassion and understanding. I thank you for your stories. I thank you for showing me the truth and allowing me to bask in its warmth, even if for a small moment. I hope that truth will ultimately prevail. I hope that you and I will live to see it. Until that time, I go, quietly, shackled and blinded once more into the prison that awaits me. Remember me. Remember us. I bid you all farewell. I bid farewell to progress I bid farewell to truth. I bid farewell to reason. I bid farewell to freedom. I bow my head and say yes."
We here are the fortunate ones. May we never again have to "bow the head and say yes"! Let us go then gratefully, with heads unbowed, with joyous hearts, and with free minds, into the brilliant warm sunlight of that brave new world beyond Mormonism.