In July (2012) Salt Lake City’s City Weekly interviewed former Mormon John K. Williams. The resulting article, “Mormon Mission Spin – John K. Williams: Pressure To Be Positive,” discusses Mr. Williams’ experiences and personal struggles as a Mormon missionary in Bolivia, as a returned missionary, and now as an ex-Mormon.
The focus of the interview, as the article’s title indicates, is on how the Mormon Church controls and spins the way LDS missions are perceived by non-missionaries. Another aspect of the article – also fascinating — is how the Church spins and controls the way members perceive those who leave the Mormon faith. In either scenario (missions or apostasy), pressure to be positive (or silent) is brought to bear on the people involved.
Asked, “What does the church say about people who have left the church?” Mr. Williams replied,
“If you ever leave, your life is going to go to hell in a handbasket. You’re going to lose your family, everything is going to go wrong, you’ll become an alcoholic. … What bothers me is, people tell me there’s a right way to do it and a wrong way, and usually the right way is to shut up and move on. If you talk about it at all, you’re ‘bitter and angry; you can leave the church but you can’t leave it alone.’ You can be as nice as you want to and you still can be seen as that. People act like if you don’t believe in the church anymore, suddenly you don’t know anything about it. You have no memory of the doctrines, and you don’t know what it’s like to be a Mormon. It’s like you have this amnesia all of a sudden.” (Ellipsis in the original.)
For Mr. Williams, the pressure to be positive kept him from being honest with himself when he began to question Mormonism.
“A lot of people get angry at the church because they feel they were lied to. I got angry because I realized that for years I knew deep down that something wasn’t right, and still I rationalized and justified things I shouldn’t have. I sold my conscience for the LDS Church, and it still bothers me a lot when I think about it.”
Mr. Williams said he would not allow himself to even think about negative aspects of his religion and religious experiences. “You really do get in the habit of telling just the faith-promoting stuff,” he said. But while he was yet an active Mormon, a friend called Mr. Williams with questions about LDS Church history, specifically about Joseph Smith’s immoral marriage practices. That’s when “it just hit me,” he said. On his blog, Mr. Williams explained,
“And just so there’s no confusion: I did not leave the LDS church because of Joseph Smith’s practice of polygamy and polyandry. That would be way too simplistic. Over many years I rationalized and ‘shelved’ problematic issues, not only in church history but in LDS scripture and foundational claims. The incident with my friend was one of those moments of clarity when I realized how much I had been rationalizing, and I couldn’t justify it anymore. Once I stopped rationalizing polygamy and polyandry, every other rationalization went, too.”
The LDS Church’s “pressure to be positive” had kept Mr. Williams in the Mormon Church, had kept him in an attitude of making excuses, rationalizing and justifying things he knew were wrong. The “pressure to be positive” caused him to self-censor — not only his words, but his thoughts as well.
Until he just couldn’t do it anymore.
I don’t know where Mr. Williams is today in regard to his faith, but Jesus said “the truth will set you free.” Hopefully, recognizing the truth about the Mormon Church is, for Mr. Williams and others, the first step toward that boundless freedom Jesus offers those who give up their striving for personal worthiness, and instead place their trust in Him: “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:32, 36).
Mr. Williams not only is honest with how his own rationalizing kept him from admitting that
he had been misled by Mormonism’s false prophets , but he confirms also how active Mormons
find excuses to reject his experience of finding out this deception . He states the mentality of
Mormons when informed of his decision to leave was met with calling into question of his
sincerity when he was active himself and even his knowledge of Mormon doctrine . He says:
” People act like if you don’t believe in the Church anymore, suddenly you don’t know anything
about it. You have no memory of the doctrines , and you don’t know what it’s like to be a
Mormon. It’s like you have this amnesia all of a sudden.”
Those of us who minister to the Mormon people are well aware of a similar mentality among
many Mormons. They instantly call into question your knowledge of Mormon doctrine since
you’re only out to attack their church , or that since you’ve never been a Mormon you have no
idea what Mormon doctrine is etc. I learned many years ago that these type of excuses are only
a defense mechanism they resort to when informed thru evidence they’re following a false
prophet . My heart goes out to sincere people who have failed to take notice of Jesus’ warning
in Matt.7:15; 24:11 , and fell for the salesman techniques of false prophets . May Mr Williams
come to know that his experiences are normal , that good people can be detoured by false
prophets from gaining a complete relationship with Jesus . Since the Bible warns of this
problem it’s reassuring to know that it also contains the solution.
This story is way too typical. It’s almost like a franchise. It’s predictable, and I don’t mean that in a derogatory way. I’ve read countless testimonies of those who have left and the pattern is pretty much the same. There are Mormons who aren’t on a truth quest but who just get sick of the hassle and fade out of the LDS clan. Mormonism just didn’t take with this folks.
For others though, truth is a priority in their lives. They are more curious and want to know who the man behind the curtain is that is pulling the levers. Mormonism thrives on its folklore and members often don’t distinguish between church doctrine and the well spun stories.
Here’s some examples that I’ve found:
that Cain, the killer of Abel, is alive and wanders the earth, wearing no clothing but being covered by hair and that apostle David W. Patten encountered him once; and that reported sightings of Bigfoot can be explained by this story;
modern encounters and assistance from one or more of “The Three Nephites”, three Nephite disciples chosen by Jesus in the Book of Mormon, who were blessed by Jesus to “never taste of death; but ye shall live to behold all the doings of the Father unto the children of men…”
that on December 7, 1941, Japanese aircraft pilots attempted to bomb or strafe the church’s Laie Hawaii Temple just prior to or just after the attack on Pearl Harbor, but were prevented from doing so by mechanical failures or an unseen protective force, and that the Japanese pilot who attempted to bomb or strafe the Laie Hawaii Temple was converted to the LDS Church after he saw a picture of the temple in the possession of Mormon missionaries in Japan;
Mormon folklore cont:
that Jesus was married, possibly to Mary Magdalene, Mary, sister of Lazarus, or Martha, and that Jesus may have been a polygamist and had children;
the miracle of the gulls, in which the crops of early Mormon settlers in Utah Territory were saved from destruction by a vast flock of seagulls that ate swarms of Mormon crickets that were devouring the crops;
that in designing the Salt Lake Temple, Brigham Young had the foresight to make space accommodation for future technological advancements such as elevators, air conditioning, and electrical wiring;
that Negroes were neutral in the War in Heaven and that is why they were not allowed to hold the Mormon priesthood before 1978;
that Māori prophets or chieftains, including Paora Te Potangaroa and Tāwhiao, predicted the coming of Mormon missionaries to New Zealand;
that Tāwhiao accurately predicted the site of the 1958 Hamilton New Zealand Temple before his death in 1894;
that a flash of lightning or other divine manifestation protected the body of Joseph Smith, Jr. from being mutilated by a mob after he had been killed at Carthage Jail;
that Orson Hyde, an early apostle of the church, was of Jewish ancestry and that for this reason it was he in 1841 that dedicated Palestine for the return of the Jews;
that wearing temple garments affords physical protection, and that some wearers have survived car wrecks, floods, and other calamities unscathed thanks to the protective power of the garments;
that Albert Einstein said that geologist and LDS Church apostle James E. Talmage was the smartest man he had ever met;
that officials of the Roman Catholic Church support the LDS Church’s efforts to build the Rome Italy Temple and that this support was forthcoming because of the church’s support of Proposition 8 in California in 2008.
OK I got these out of WIKI which I wouldn’t assign as a super duper primary source, but I’ve seen these in other places.
The point is that these folklore stories are eaten-up by many Mormon faithful and are used to bolster their faith. Some of them are so outrageous that it’s easy to see why Mormons believing them are of such a mentality as to accept anything as true. This type of Mormon isn’t about to delve into or question anything about Mormonism.
Add to this the thought of eternal damnation and the devil being the author of anything that questions Mormonism and these folks aren’t going to let their curiosity get the best of them.
When you consider that for many Mormons, the LDS church is the focal point of their entire lives, they just aren’t going to go there when it comes to examining Mormonism. There’s just too much too lose, too much pain to endure and just plain lack of courage.
I’m going to post a link with five videos John Dehlin did with Anne Wilde, a Mormon fundamentalist. She’s really refreshing to listen to because she doesn’t try to hide Mormonism. She comes out very confidently and clearly articulates all of the things that we Christians are accused of making-up about Mormonism.
I’d go right to part five because that’s where she talks about the Mormon god. I learned quite a bit listening to her. It sort of blew my hair back but she really has her gods straight. She’s got Michael the Archangel who is really the god of this world, coming down to earth as Adam with one of his wives Eve. Elohim to her is the council of the gods because it’s a plural term. Unbelievable really!
She is absolutely firm and can articulate “truth” very clearly in the sense that she has absolute confidence in what she is saying. Watch the first ten minutes to get that part but the rest is also interesting.
Again, I’m struck by how convincing a person can be who has a certain manner and an ability to communicate with confidence. What they say can be absolutely out in left field but confidence and a certain type of enthusiasm sells.
I’m just wondering if it’s pressure to be positive or pressure to appear “happy”. I have spent zero time in the Mormon system and culture but I keep reading certain things regarding the cultural characteristics of Mormonism. One is that these folks are expected to appear happy. They are great at stuffing problems. Jim Spencer wrote about this in his book “Beyond Mormonism”. Mormons hide their problems. Isn’t it true that the percentage of prescription “happy pills” in Utah is extremely high. (Interesting use of a word)
That’s all part of oppressive groups. There are rules, like the “No talk” rule. Anyone pointing out a problem is attacked and is then seen as the problem. Autocratic environments have a lot of pressure to look good on the outside. Thus, be positive and happy.
While this is going on there are people with real problems who are growing more depressed and anxious by the day and cannot find a way to cope. Well they do find ways to cope but too often they are destructive. This only adds more to the guilt, shame and hopelessness they feel.
Another interesting artical by Mr. Williams on positively spinning the missionary expense and thing mormons can do to help can be found here:
I never went on a mission myself, but I’ve been aware of the sugar coating problem from listening to family that did. Hopefully in the future we can prepare our youth that there will be highs and lows out there, just like in real life, and that knowledge can stay with them when they return, leading to a healthy outlook on life.
Falcon commented on the high use of anti-depressants in Utah. On thing to keep in mind is that Utah is in the middle of America’s “suicide belt”, a grouping of states from Montana in the north to Arizona and New Mexico in the south with a disproportionately high rate of depression and suicide among their citizens. Utah’s high use of anti-depressants (and low rate of suicide when compared to other states in the suicide belt) could be the result of people facing there problems and getting the medical help they need, not burying there heads in the sand.
You can not deny the enormous amount of pressure put on Mormons to be perfect. The enormous amount of pressure from jobs they feel they HAVE to accept in the LDS church. I know many, many LDS people who are worn to a frazzle trying to raise their families, work full time, be perfect, do all the LDS church requires plus the calling they serve in the LDS church, and they are medicated to the hilt. I have worked with ladies who are high on pain killers, and so low on drugs like Valium and Somas. They just can’t deal with all the pressure. Women who are involved with the young women’s program are never home because of all the activities. What about their own children? Men in the bishopric are gone all the time too. My neighbor was put in as bishop when he was in his 20’s and he talked to me about the enormous pressure put on him and the worst part was the counseling that people needed from him and he was not qualified at all! He told a story of an older couple who where wanting a divorce and came to him for marital counseling and he had only been married for 7 years. He was not qualified to counsel these people. What pressure. If LDS people are going to their bishops for counseling they most certainly are not getting the help they need. Medication is a bandaid. All these medicated Utahns really need to see qualified counselors not their ward bishop.
I have never heard of the “suicide belt” so I Googled it and what do you know, FAIR has a piece on it. From reading that, I can tell that your last post came from FAIR. Forgive me for not believing anything that comes from FAIR. I have read outright lies from them. Let’s not forget that states surrounding Utah also have many LDS people living there. What about the boy from Idaho who commited suicide because of the LDS church’s pressure? His name was Kip Eliason. The bishop interviews that are conducted with teenagers are out of line and should be illegal. I know from asking my own son about his interview. I was appalled at the questions he was asked. I did not allow my youngest son to interview with the bishop. These teenagers are minors and should have a parent present. Some of the questions that are asked are very inappropriate and guilt provoking. I was sickened over my son’s interview, I can’t imagine having a teenaged daughter asked those things. I was never interviewed by a bishop as a teenager. We were inactive at the time thank goodness! There are many reasons why people commit suicide, and there are many reasons people take anti depressants, but you can’t say that people outside the “suicide belt” aren’t on medication because they just don’t seek help! Maybe they don’t have the religious pressures and aren’t in need of medication. Maybe they have freedom in Christ and don’t need medication. Who knows?
Actually I should say that we were inactive after I was 16. I’m not sure what age they interview girls, but I’m so glad I didn’t have to endure that.
Thanks for your input. It’s really nice to have former Mormons here giving their insights and personal experiences.
I’ve heard about these bishop interviews with teenagers. It really makes you wonder if some of these guys are into sexual voyeurism. Here’s a website that has some articles related to bishop interviews. You may have to scroll down a couple to get at the topic you were referring to.
I can’t imagine an adult asking a teenager these questions. I think personally that it’s a form of abuse. To have a religious leader, someone with spiritual authority, asking questions like these is totally out of line.
I’ve had to question students of all ages about various things and I always had another adult in the room with me, most often the school counselor. There are topics I wouldn’t broach on a bet unless the parents were present. What these nimrods (bishops) don’t realize is that they have to protect themselves also against false accusations. Very stupid all the way round.
And then these kids are suppose to be “positive”. Forget it! I’d be out the door and wouldn’t look back.
I’m sure there are some bishops who are really into doing these interviews and I am sure there are bishops who have a hard time with it but it’s part of their calling. I can’t imagine having to ask anyone these personal questions and I’m sure some bishops are just as appalled. You’re right, anyone could press charges for child abuse, bishops should be required to have a parent present just as police officers, doctors, and teachers do. I feel sorry for the kids like Kip Eliason. I read his diary once and the anguish this kid went through is horrible. How many Kip Eliasons are out there? These interviews are very damaging to a kid. When I allowed my oldest son to run down to the church for his interview ( The ward clerk calls them and sets it up) I had no idea what was asked or discussed and I sent him fully trusting the LDS church and the bishop. How many parents do that? I would bet a lot of LDS parents are familiar with the interviews because they went through them as teenagers. What parent in their right mind would allow such a thing with their child, fully knowing what goes on? I think we talked about this once before but my sister in law isn’t and has never been LDS and my niece was baptized LDS, she wanted to go to girls camp one year and their ward clerk called her in for an interview and my sister in law told the ward clerk that he had to be crazy to think that she would send her little 14 year old daughter to be interviewed alone by an adult man.