My goal is COMPLETELY not to bring people from the church or down the road I’m on- this is my journey, and it’s a good journey for me, but I don’t believe for a second that my path is right for anyone but me. So it is with a bit of satire that I write this guide.
How to break a testimony in 10 easy steps:
Be sure through this whole process to pray, read scriptures, talk to faithful family members, and seek guidance from priesthood leaders. Continue living the mormon lifestyle (no drinking, honor the sabbath, pay tithing) even when you have doubts- they should not be a deciding factor. Be respectful of those you love who aren’t on the path you are on.
Step 1. Make sure you start with a very academic, logic-based testimony of the church. The less blind/trusting faith, the better. Ideally the subject has gone through a full church education (4 years seminary, 4 years at BYU, years teaching at church) and feels very well-educated on scriptures and sunday school topics- to the point of boredom with them. The ideal mindset for this approach is “The church is true because it makes sense- I can even make efforts to prove it!” Ideally the subject does take issue with “minor” parts of LDS culture, but pushes them aside because they aren’t important/can be explained, if the church is true.
Step 2. Find the weak points of the testimony: “The plan of salvation sure makes sense, but if temple ordinances are necessary for salvation, why doesn’t the Book of Mormon mention them? And how can the prophet receive revelation for the church (about, say, gay marriage) that seems to conflict my personal revelation? And why does half of what Brigham Young said seem so crazy? Why does the temple endowment ceremony leave me feeling empty?” Suggest following the pattern that has always strengthened the testimony in the past: if you have questions, research it and pray about it, you’re bound to come back with a stronger testimony.
Step 3. Make sure the most easily accessible resources that deal with those questions specifically are not church-correlated materials. (Stay away from anti-mormon sources- remember, the goal is strengthening the testimony, not seeking a reason to leave.) I highly suggest John Dehlin’s Mormon Stories Podcast for this step.
Step 4. In your research, note topics that you realize you don’t feel well informed about, and dig in deeper. For a well-rounded approach to a particular topic, read the wikipedia article, followed by the FAIR (church apologetic) response to that particular wikipedia article. Also, read Rough Stone Rolling by Richard Bushman.
Step 5. Realize the depth of your previous ignorance on any of the following topics, both from various third party sources as well as FAIR/church rebuttals:
- Joseph Smith sticking his head into a hat and looking at his “seer stone” to translate the Book of Mormon, often not even referencing the Golden Plates.
- The Book of Abraham facsimiles featured in the published scriptures have undeniably nothing to do with the text, but rather are egyptian funerary texts.
- Joseph Smith and polyandry (proposing and “marrying” the wives of other men- including his own apostles)
- Emma Smith’s broken heart about polygamy. Note that she is NOT the first woman to be sealed to Joseph, and that all accounts agree that Joseph was intimate with many (though perhaps not all), of his 30+ polygamous wives- and lied about it to his dismayed “real” wife, Emma.
- The various (some would say conflicting) accounts of the First Vision.
- The elements of the temple ceremonies that resemble elements of masonry REALLY resemble elements of masonry. The standard line you may have heard growing up, that masonry got it passed down from temples in ancient times, is easily proven to not be true.
- How much church policies, which in theory reflect doctrine, have changed
- Joseph Smith’s martyrdom (he was in jail on a legitimate charge of destroying property illegally, he had been drinking wine, was not wearing garments, and fired a weapon at the mob)
- The secession confusion, and the fact that the no accounts of the church story of Brigham Young taking on the likeness of Joseph Smith didn’t appear until over 20 years after it supposedly happened. Also, apparently Brigham Young ordained his 11 year old son to the position of Apostle (a position the son never officially filled).
It’s highly possible none of these issues would single-handedly break a testimony. After all, is it so much weirder to translate the Book of Mormon with a seer stone than a Urim and Thummim? To really break the testimony, focus on the sense of betrayal and confusion at all of this being new information to someone who has sought out academic knowledge about the church their whole lives but who only stuck to “sunday school” sources. It is very hard to realize things that you would have vehemently denied as being “anti-mormon” falsehoods are, in fact, a well-established part of church history.
Step 6. Now that your faith is sufficiently rocked, look at historical changes to the temple ceremony: the most surprising of which may be that under Brigham Young, the temple including an “Oath of Vengeance” as well as a lecture at the veil on the Adam-God theory. (The FAIR articles which confirm these two points completely destroyed the remainder of my faith in the idea of an Eternal, Universal truth being found in the temple.) See your idea of infallible prophets (when acting in the roll of prophet) crumple. Realize that if prophets can make those kind of mistakes about part of the temple ceremony- which is undoubtedly part of the doctrine of the church- that perhaps parts of the church that don’t make sense to you are less-than-divinely-inspired.
Step 7. Pray. Pray. Pray, and pray some more. Be shocked by the complete lack of warning flags telling you to turn back or that the things you are learning are wrong. Get an overwhelming spiritual feeling of “keep doing what you are doing, this is right for you”. Realize that you have never recieved a witness of the Book of Mormon, or of the priesthood, but that the spiritual experiences you’ve received in your life have been geared more towards feeling God’s love. Feel peaceful. Fully love yourself for who you CURRENTLY are for the first time in your life. Enjoy the lifting of cognitive dissonance that comes from admitting you no longer know the church is true. At this point, the only sadness you should feel is because some loved ones may be hurt by your change in beliefs.
Step 8. Tell your spouse you don’t know if you believe any of it anymore. When your (still believing) spouse doesn’t act shocked, ask why. Realize he is right when he says “because you seem more at peace, calmer, and spiritual now than I’ve seen in a long time”. Give the spouse some time to follow the same path and feel validated when your spouse reaches similar conclusions.
Step 9. Talk to your bishop. Hear that you have been completely deceived by the devil, and that what you think has been the Holy Ghost communicating with you is actually Satan. Wonder how you could be so deceived when you have been promised the gift of the Holy Ghost and have completely honored your covenants, and were seeking answers with sincere intent and an open mind, consulting the Holy Ghost all the way. Choose between believing in priesthood leadership, or believing in yourself.
Step 10. Discover that others have also encountered these issues. Some have left the church, and have done what you previously thought was unthinkable: lived normal, healthy, and happy lives, raising well-adjusted children, outside of the church. Some have stayed as healthy, active, contributing members of the church, though none of them seem to have the “typical” LDS testimony. Realize you have a choice to make, and seek what will be best for you and your family. Keep an open mind, don’t treat any decision as permanent, and be surprised by what feels right.