Testimony of Ken Clark
I pressured my new wife into joining the church in 1970. I assumed that I knew a whole lot more about spirituality than she did. She was a former rainbow girl, who had hardly attended church, but I had spent a life time reading the bible, attending church and trying to figure out how to dedicate my whole life to God. The Mormon church presented the perfect way to do that, or so it seemed to me. She relied on common sense. I relied on the spiritual feelings. I thought that made me superior in some way. She did not get the feelings of confirmation after praying about the Book of Mormon, so I "knew" that something must be wrong with her spiritual circuitry. The only real fights we had in those early days of marriage were about the church. She believed it was a lot of hocus-pocus. I liked being love bombed.
I was superstitious at age 20 and afraid of what would happen after death, as I look back now. I was desperate for reassurance, so I thought joining the "one true church" would prove that I loved God and he/she/it should love me. I did not know then, that the euphoria I felt was just that - intense emotion, relief and acceptance; not some cosmic "ghost" who filled me with those feelings to me as a sign that God approved, loved me and was aware of my every thought and action.
As a new convert I wanted to become a full time CES professional after graduation from college - another bargaining chip to get God to love me. After teaching elementary school, I worked full time for the LDS Church Education system from 1975-1990. I was a Release-Time Seminary Principal, CES Coordinator, Institute Faculty and an Institute Director. I was "serving the Lord," but mostly struggling to earn praise from church leaders. I genuinely loved the students. But I left my wife home alone regularly, to care for our 5 children (all very close in age) because I needed to be out building up the kingdom of God climbing the male priesthood career ladder (having my fragile ego stroked).
I worked hard to become a noted defender of the church. I read everything, developed elaborate outlines and notes. I outlined chapters of the scriptures (all of them), with commentary. I read church history and created calendars to place important historical events in proper perspective. The Lord loves plainness I thought, and I wanted to expose the Anti-Mormons' lies, designed to malign the church and its god-like leaders. I didn't check facts back then. I trusted the church leaders.
I read enough to learn that the "Anti-Mormons" facts were verifiable. So I studied harder because I knew that they probably twisted the truth and took it out of context. If J Smith practiced polygamy, then it was because an angel with a drawn sword had commanded him to do it. And there needed to be a plan to take care of all the church widows that were destitute and alone after their husbands were murdered by mobs. That was straight out of the church history seminary curriculum used in the 1970s. It had to be true.
I discovered that sometimes, church leaders may have been dishonest. They had to protect the Lordís church, I was told by apologists. Church leaders saw to it that important truths were deleted from the historical record. All of the distortions in church history were designed to protect the church from embarrassing behavior of its past leaders. I kept telling myself that there was a reason we did not tell the "whole" truth to the members, as Elder Packer told the CES workers in 1981 (The Mantle is Far, Far Greater Than the Intellect, address at the Fifth Annual Church Educational Systems Religious Educators' Symposium, 22 August 1981, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah.). We were ordered not to spread "disease germs" (the real truth about church history), because, according to Packer, "some truths are not very useful." Embarrassing stories might cause someone to doubt and look deeper into those matters and discover a church-history, cover-up. Questioning and critical thinking could get out of hand. Packer intended to keep not just youth, but every church member from studying and discussing the "real" church history, if he could. I learned this the hard way after being disciplined frequently for discussing documented church history with adults in my institute classes. "Just stick to the approved outline! Be orthodox in your teaching! Some think you are a wolf in sheepís clothing!"
The Mark Hofmann forgeries and murders troubled me. How was he able to trick the inspired leaders of the church? He made them look like gullible old men, no more inspired than "normal" people, eager to cover up embarrassing historical truths. They did not resemble god-led-prophets blessed with the gift of discernment. I discussed this incident with CES colleagues but their ad-hoc attempts to justify the prophets' obvious inability to detect evil did not address the fact that they lacked prophetic spiritual gifts.
". . . [M]en are that they might have joy" (2 Nephi 2:25), but I was miserable. I kept a journal and had large binders filled with life experiences and personal musings. I read them for inspiration from time to time (my personal Doctrine and Covenants), but all I could find on every page was guilt and feelings of inadequacy or unworthiness. It was a record of a man riddled with angst and shame. It depressed the hell out of me. My wife would plead with me to believe that I was a good man. But I didn't believe her.
I felt guilty about: (1) not being a good enough church leader, (2) not being a good enough Church Education System employee, (3) not being a more effective home teacher, (4) not always agreeing with my local leaders, (5) not being home more, (6) not serving the church more. I could never do enough, to be good enough.
This constant guilt made me ask myself, "Shouldn't a church that promises joy and happiness, offer more encouragement instead of constant threats that I am unworthy; stern warnings to lengthen my stride, and bullying -that I might lose my family in the afterlife to a more worthy man?" I learned that I wasn't the only one who carried constant guilt, depression and feelings of inadequacy. The common "guilt theme" was common among members I counseled with. Adult guilt, usually came from feelings that they had failed as parents because a child (or Horrors! more than one child) wandered from church activity. Shame from youth, more often than not, centered on sexual exploration, inadequacy, and fear that they had committed sins as serious as premeditated murder (though they were usually looking at pornography, masturbating or petting). Guilt is a powerful control system and the church leaders know it and use it liberally.
One year I bought and read Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith, by Valeen Tippetts Avery and Linda King Newell. I read it out loud to my wife. The well documented work offered overwhelming evidence that J Smith was likely a narcissist, con artist, pathological liar and serial adulterer (33 "wives"; 11 legally married, several sisters, mother and daughters, and teens). We were both becoming more skeptical of the church leaders' version of Mormon history and their familiar pattern of covering up embarrassing episodes in LDS history, while assassinating the character of those who dared to point them out. I was aware that my main job in CES was to make the "brethren" (church leaders past and present) look infallible. It was like having my head in a vice, as I thought about quitting CES. How does a one income household survive after the breadwinner quits? I wish I would have had the courage to find out so I could tell you. But I felt a responsibility to provide for the family - income and health benefits.
As our children got older, the church's demands on our time pulled us apart. The strain from relentless activity made it hard to schedule time together. Each of the kids served in a different quorum or young womenís presidency, with all the different activities related to each group. We were running in different directions nearly every day and night to different church functions. When I asked to be released as a ward mission leader to be home more with the family, while my wife was attending nursing school, the stake president responded by writing a letter to my CES superiors advising them not to offer me a contract because of my "lack of commitment." The church leaders werenít eager to allow us to take control of our own time - our lives.
Teresa and I began to fight against the guilt feelings. The dishonesty of church leaders on all levels was disturbing. I noted that "anti-Mormon" labels and mudslinging were used in a heavy handed way, to silence discourse, even when the issues discussed were valid, well researched, and supported by solid documentation. I did not like how church apologists' dealt with criticism. They did not contradict the substantive claims of scholars and critics with evidence. Instead, they diverted attention from objective evidence, by nit-picking about insignificant details, and character assassination. Sometimes they padded their citations with mountains meaningless and unrelated information, giving it the sound of academic remonstrance. But their long and laborious protests lacked evidence, objectivity and substance. Their arguments changed each time their ruses were exposed. It became obvious that they could not prevail in a reasonable discussion centered on the facts. None of their academic sounding work is ever published in peer reviewed publications (I do not refer to the intramural church related publications). Their "scholarship" would draw attention to their crazy and unsubstantiated claims by real scholars.
I was a fan of Hugh Nibley, until I learned that he cherry-picked information, out of context, to make outlandish defenses of the Book of Abraham or Book of Mormon sound plausible. He was a champion at attacking his critics personally, instead of dealing with the evidence in an honest way. Other church apologists, emboldened by his methods, have followed his example. Their mean spirited tactics shine a bright light on their fear of facts.
Priesthood leaders and CES civil servants suggested other ways to deal with sound evidence that undermined church claims. They suggested that members should ignore the facts and "put your doubts on the shelf and wait for the answers" - trust us! Most CES colleagues and friends were quite happy with this "answer," and generously fertilized the minds of the youth with it.
But I learned eventually that Brigham Young had indeed taught the Adam-God "idea" as an official doctrine, but those who knew better denied it. I learned that church leaders harbored racist attitudes, but church leaders denied it and blamed God for their bigotry, despite the contradictory statements (to embrace people of color - all are alike unto God) in Mormon scripture. Polygamy was not a principle that inspired virtue, but church leaders denied it. It spawned generations of church approved lies and church presidents and apostles who were willing liars - all "in the sacred name of Jesus Christ," of course. Lying for Christ's sake is noble and good. Multiple sexual partners (more accurate than plural marriage) promoted lust, greed, competition to get the most wives (to insure superior celestial status), unbridled sexual promiscuity, and made a mockery of virtue, at the expense of married and single women, and teen aged girls. J Smith told William Clayton to "get all you can." (An Intimate Chronicle: The Journals of William Clayton, George D. Smith editor, Signature Books) He also told Clayton, suspecting that church members in Nauvoo would raise a ruckus over Claytonís new, young, sexual partner, that he would perform a fake excommunication to satisfy the saints, and later bring Clayton back into full fellowship, after the dust settled. It was a way to keep the Nauvoo open marriage experiment (also more accurate than plural marriage) under wraps; and make J Smith look like he really did not approve of the practice of multiple sexual partners.
I compared LDS church leaders' counsel, to good mental health practices and found the demand to blindly obey church leaders, at the expense of common sense; admonitions against critical thinking, and valid questioning of authority, to be unhealthy and unwise. I urged members to think for themselves, and was often mocked by church leaders for being "of the world" - a real put-down in Mormon society. Members had a hard time giving themselves permission to make decisions based on common sense and their own individual needs, instead of church leaders' advice. They were afraid offending God.
Some church leaders felt entitled to tell members what they must (or must not) do with their time money, spouses, children, and their sex lives. And there is/was no reliable appellate process for members who wanted to exercise their free will, when priesthood leaders abused their authority. I wondered aloud to my family at times, why anyone in their right mind would assume that a new bishop (a realtor for example), is an instant expert construction manager, pilot, musician, physicist, just because he was selected and set apart to be a bishop. Why do Mormons believe that bishops automatically, by virtue of their new calling, know it all when it comes to marital therapy, counseling abuse victims, finances, etc.? Why would you take your bishop seriously if his only marital advice for struggling couples was to "set up a date night!"?
Tithing seemed like a head tax used to keep members in line, so they could qualify to attend family functions that centered on the temple. It was less about cheerful giving and more like coercion.
It was heart rending to see grandparents, sisters, brothers, fathers and mothers barred from their childrenís weddings. None of my family, including siblings, was allowed to attend our daughter's temple wedding. The "families-are-forever" church gutted one of the most memorable events in my family because, "they are not worthy." Bullshit! (For those who hate profanity insert "Flip" here.) The church's stubborn refusal to accept that many are better off without Mormonism drives a wedge between family members who wish to choose who they want to be. Church leaders could end the divorces, and ostracism of tens of thousands of spouses and children who leave Mormonism, in a heartbeat. They could order members to stop the cold hearted meanness, toward those who choose a path that leads out of the church. It would reinforce the message that the church cares about family harmony. It will never happen though because the church leaders need some form of coercion to stop the flood of members disaffecting from Mormonism. The internet is a bummer. The church leaders canít control it.
I contrasted the churchís lack of tolerance with my mom and dad, and my Christian relatives, and friends who were atheists and agnostics. They were more charitable than the Mormon system, that relegated most Mormons (about 1/3 are active worldwide) and others outside Mormonism, as worthy of pity or scorn.
When I taught institute I did not want to read quotations from "the brethren" condemning gays and lesbians as sinners; parsing words to say we love the sinner, but condemn the sin. Those were weasel words. After counseling with at least a dozen gay men, I learned that the majority did not choose to be gay, no matter what B Packer declared to be heaven sent wisdom. His anti-gay rhetoric said more about him and his own sexual baggage than the victims of his cruelty. Nearly all of the gay clients I worked with had tried to commit suicide because they had made elaborate deals with God to make them straight, but he left them gay. They were rejected, and abandoned, without a community of believers to accept them and love them, instead of judge them. B Packer chose accusations, insults, indictments and threats instead of love and acceptance. He and other "inspired LDS leaders" tattooed a virtual, Scarlet Letter on them. It was similar to 150 years of race bigotry practiced by church leaders against those with African ancestry (Neither White nor Black: Mormon Scholars Confront the Race Issue in a Universal Church, Edited by Lester E. Bush, Jr., and Armand L. Mauss, Signature Books; Midvale, Utah, © 1984 by Signature Books)
I often wondered, "Why is it my fault that the church leaders covered up embarrassing history and some of us discovered it?" I wanted to know if lying and prevarication by Mormon leaders were infrequent isolated incidents, or if it was a systematic tool to avoid embarrassment and protect the ideal image of Mormons as a group of victims persecuted by ungodly and hateful mobs. My list of big lies called Lying for the Lord can be found on MormonThink. I quit working on it after the list ballooned to 130 major examples of lies - some of them combined with egregious character assassination. I did not need to continue because it amounted to beating a dead horse. Fawn Brodie, The Tanners, Richard Packham, The ExMormon Groups, and others who were viewed as the great deceivers, were the ones telling the truth. There is far more honesty in their approach. They use evidence instead of labels.
Joseph Smith would not qualify for a temple recommend in the modern version of the church he organized. He would be serving time in prison for propositioning teens and having sex with them; and for abusing his authority. The historical record indicates that he resembles Warren Jeffs more than Thomas S. Monson. He was a sexual predator and serial liar. I did not mean to discover that. But it's in the church's own historical record.
I wanted out of CES, so after getting my Ph.D. I looked for other work.
I quit CES in August 2002 after a stake president berated me for not paying tithing in the way he thought I should. A good friend and colleague at the Institute of Religion in Moscow, Idaho, persuaded me to pay my tithing at the end of the year in a lump sum, using stock I owned. The stake president ordered me to pay my tithing monthly, and not use the stock method available to all other members. My appeals to the churchís handbook of instruction were explained away or ignored. He gloated after our meeting (verbal beating?) that I might not be "man enough to take chastisement." I left the Pullman Institute building after the meeting, called my wife, and asked her to meet for an early dinner. Thatís when I told her that I wanted to quit CES and the church and make it a clean break. We were so happy. A huge burden was lifted. And it has never come back. We had our names removed from the records of the church. Our consciences demanded it.
Why does it take so long, and why is it so hard, for people like me, (and extremely intelligent people), to leave the church once we learn that the church is not what it claims to be? Social Psychologists who study cognitive dissonance have compiled considerable evidence that helps explain it. More than half of a century of experiments, replicated in various countries around the world have confirmed the foundations of the theory. The greater the sacrifice we make, and the more we invest, to join and maintain membership in a group, the harder it is to admit that we made a mistake. Rather than admit it, we work overtime to self-justify; convincing ourselves that we did the right thing. We need to feel good, worthy, smart, and moral; so we grind, wrestle, push back, and engage in the audacious mental gymnastics, to justify our bad decisions. (Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson, Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts, Mariner Books, 2008)
In addition, most humans are likely to obey authority figures. Stanley Milgram studied this phenomenon to learn why Hitler was capable of convincing so many, to participate in the murder millions of innocent people. Others have since replicated his work and verified Milgram's initial findings. (Milgram, S. (1974), Obedience to Authority; An Experimental View ISBN 0-06-131983-X) Mormonism is religious authoritarianism. They are too smart to admit it in public, but Mormons earnestly believe that "when the prophet speaks, the thinking has been done." It is traumatic and soul wrenching to disobey "godly" orders. To give one's life and resources to church authority, without question, is the highest form of religious expression for Mormons (like the sacrifice of Abraham and consecration). Sufficient sacrifice assures exaltation.
LDS church authorities will not admit that there is a valid reason for leaving the Mormon church. Exiting constitutes treason by a traitor, or apostasy by an apostate. If you leave Mormonism you have surrendered your soul to the devil, because you want to sin and live a hedonistic life, according to the discussions in Mormon Sunday School. This might explain why so many regard Mormonism as a cult, or a quirky and demanding fundamentalist sect. This might explain why so many regard Mormonism as a cult, or a quirky and demanding fundamentalist sect.
Four of our five children graduated from Mormonism ahead of us. They set a good example for us.
My wife and I; and the family, are happier than we have ever been. Our "non-membership" status suits us. We don't judge and criticize each other for not keeping church driven, arbitrary and artificial commandments. We donít subject every decision to the Mormon authority. We donít assume that someone will lose their soul for drinking a cup of coffee or tea or not wearing god-designed underwear. Life is simpler, more satisfying and more peaceful. And we like "real" underwear a lot more.
We have prospered since leaving the fold. Not paying the mandatory church tax has provided us with more discretionary income - to buy tea and coffee at Starbucks (okay, we save more too). I'm glad we did not turn over our shares of stock to the church. Why does the corporation sole (corporation of the president) demand so much, from so many who have so little, and then refuse to account for the $5 Billion collected annually in tithes and offerings? That is a different kind of lie - more passive. Members are supposed to feel ashamed if they want a true accounting of how their hard earned tithing dollars are spent. To make matters worse, it appears that the LDS church offers a pittance to humanitarian causes - less than one percent of their annual income? (Chapter on Church finances and Tithing in Mormon America: The Power and The Promise by Richard N. Ostling and Joan K. Ostling.)
I noticed that church leaders spoke forcefully to members in a controlled environment, such as the annual (and semi-annual) general conferences. And they constantly insisted that the members must boldly testify of the church's "truthiness." Yet the same courageous authorities displayed insecurity and palpable fear when being interviewed by national media in front of the bright lights and cameras. President Hinckley fumbled with note cards and lied about basic Mormon doctrine on national TV in more than one interview, instead of boldly testifying of the truth. It was ironic that he wrote a book called, Standing for Something.
I have family and many friends who remain devoted to the church, despite my disaffection. I cherish their friendship and the many happy (and funny) memories we created together. I hope they don't pity me.
Bachelors of Arts, Education - Central Washington University
Masters of Education, Counseling Psychology - Washington State University
Ph.D. Higher, Education Administration - University of Idaho
Church Education System full time employee from 1975 to 2002.
Past Church positions: Primary Teacher, Elders Quorum Presidency, High Councilman (3 times), counselor (both 1st and 2nd) in Bishopric, Ward Mission Leader, High Priest Group
Leader, Ward Young Men's President, Ward Executive Secretary, Stake Young Men's President, Bishop
Currently Director of the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs at a public University in the Northwestern U.S.
Lying for the Lord can be found here.