Testimony of Dr. Lynn K. Wilder
In order to become full time professorial faculty at Brigham Young University, one must be interviewed and receive the approval of a General Authority. My interview took place in May of 1999. As I sat in the exquisitely carved wood environment in the old church office building, I was closely watched by starched security men who followed me even to the restroom and stood outside to await my return. I was mildly amused. During the interview, the General Authority said something curious. He said, "I've been interviewing faculty for BYU for many years and I've never come upon someone like you." "How’s that?" I asked. He replied, "You’ve never lived in Utah, you've never attended BYU, and you're a pure convert."
"Wow," I thought, "among my professional colleagues, there will be few if any converts to the LDS Church, few who came from outside of Utah, and few scholars schooled somewhere other than BYU?" I deduced that since I was different, Heavenly Father must have a unique work for me to do there. Back then I thought it was about me and my works. The LDS instruction that the glory of God is intelligence (D&C 93:36) can cultivate some vast egos; it did mine. Mormons quote from 1 Nephi 19:23 in the Book of Mormon, "liken all scripture unto us." The implication is it’s all about me—my journey to exaltation and godhood, my performance, my appearance, my callings, my works, my intelligence—my worthiness. What a burden to bear. That's the Mormon mindset: "focus on yourself - good works get you to the Celestial Kingdom" and I now know it's a pile of, well, non-truth.
To be honest, I'm grateful for the 8 plus years that I was at BYU. My colleagues and students were intelligent, hard working, sincere, religious and they gave me exemplary support for professional development. However, I like to say I went into the heart of Mormonism to learn the heart of Mormonism. Given my experience with marginalized students (homeless, juvenile delinquents, special education students, English language learners, dropouts, ethnically diverse students, etc.), I was assigned to teach multiculturalism.
It was my BYU students who taught me about the inanity called "the curse of Cain" with its racist implications. For students who were convinced it was scriptural (see LDS scriptures: Abraham Chapter 1 and Moses Chapter 7 in the Pearl of Great Price and references to "cursing" and “a skin of blackness” in 1, 2, and 3 Nephi, Jacob, Alma, and Mormon in the Book of Mormon), an open-minded discussion about race could seem pointless. I considered teaching this course as a challenge to change hearts, and I did see BYU students occasionally burst into tears as they realized the full import of their negative beliefs and actions on real people. I have made a habit of sending students into a cultural environment different than their own for sufficient time for them to get attached to individuals from another culture and to rethink personal biases.
However, when students thought racist ideas were defensible by LDS scripture and statements of past Prophets, making headway with them seemed nearly impossible. In fairness, I will say that current LDS General Authorities have spoken against racism, many BYU students did not express racist ideas, and some of my current students, who are not LDS, do. Nevertheless, numerous racist scriptures still exist in official LDS sources as noted. For me the existence of racist ideas in LDS scripture is a conundrum of mammoth proportions.
Thus, seemingly on cue, our college was placed on probation by our accrediting agency for not meeting standards for diversity. The college diversity committee of which I was a member created occasions for both faculty and students to have crucial conversations about and to implement culturally responsive behavior. Colleagues and I wrote a grant, subsequently funded by the federal government, to provide scholarships that brought ethnically diverse, bilingual, and/or individuals with disabilities into a dual certification program to become teachers. As director of that program and mentor for diverse students, I was wholly engaged in and loved the work of helping diverse students acclimate to BYU and the sometimes greater challenge of BYU acclimating to them. But, doubts about the truth of Mormonism were surfacing.
Typically several times a year in my role as faculty, I present research at professional national/international conferences. If it hadn’t been for a Native American gentleman who stood up at such a convention and heckled me while I, representing BYU, was presenting collaborative research on a multicultural topic, I would not have known that Blacks had not been allowed to attend BYU in the 1960’s. I’d like to personally thank him. Later when I returned to BYU and inquired about it, I was handed the book The Church and the Negro. It contained some shocking truth about the racist words and policies of leaders in the Mormon Church in fairly recent history regarding Blacks, and it stirred up still more doubts.
Later, while supervising student teachers in local Utah schools and visiting public places like restaurants, I encountered families obviously living polygamy. I thought polygamy was part of the past. Well, given the D&C 132 scripture supporting polygamy that still exists in LDS scripture, thus doctrine (that many LDS women turned up their noses at when discussed in Relief Society lessons), it was clear that men could be sealed to more than one woman for time and all eternity in the temple. We had been temple workers for 10 years. In addition, I heard a story from a reliable neighbor about an active LDS ancestor called to polygamy by the Prophet himself years after the 1890 Manifesto (supposedly from God) was purported to have put a stop to the practice. Racism and polygamy—were huge problems for me. Although the LDS Church vehemently denies these practices currently exist in the church, both doctrines persist in LDS scripture.
I had converted to the LDS faith at the age of 24 in the 70’s when missionaries knocked on our door and sincerely believed in the christ of Mormonism for 30 years but came to a point where these accumulating facts could no longer be ignored. Although in the 80’s and 90’s, I had dabbled where I was warned not to go by reading books like Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith, Mormon Murders, Orson Scott Card’s Saints, and even Hugh Nibley’s daughter Martha Beck’s 1999 book about her son with a disability and her ritual abuse, it was through everyday experiences with generational Mormon folk, media, and just life in Utah that bizarre truth about LDS culture and history began to come to light for me.
Eventually my husband and I turned to the internet to research, but I admit at first I was not convinced to dig deeper or to leave the Church. Life in Mormonism was just too good. I would characterize BYU professors as sacred cows. I was still explaining away conflicts with the whine, “But the Church is still true.” No doubt it was these facts that helped us (Michael and I and several family members who were traveling this road together) finally pay attention to and not ignore the smell of something not quite right by using our analytical minds to think about it and by looking at Mormonism from outside the box with an objective eye.
Then our third son Micah came to know the truth about Mormonism on his LDS mission to Florida (2004-2006). After reading the Bible every day for more than a year to find fuel to refute the Christian pastors he was stumbling upon and trying to teach, he came to trust Christ’s words in the Bible and recognized that Christ Himself opposed Mormon doctrine. Now he didn’t actually tell us this in his weekly missionary emails. He just asked us to read the New Testament. Micah’s story is found at www.sacredgrovesonline.org and www.adamsroadband.com and on youtube. And we did read it, seriously, with our scientific-method, need-evidence-of-truth hats on (not our heads in our hats).
Leaving Mormonism behind and converting to the Christ of the Bible had a two-fold process. First it was intellectual (objective) and second, it was spiritual (more subjective but no less real for me). Both were simultaneous and intertwined. The intellectual part refuted Mormonism in so many ways I cannot list them all here. Many have articulated the data well (e.g., www.utlm.org; www.mrm.org; www.hismin.com). There is no physical evidence to corroborate the Book of Mormon. No spears from a colossal battle, no Zarahemla, no DNA connection from Native Americans to Jews. The Bible has clear physical, historical, geographical, as do secular substantiating sources. The people, the places, and the events of the Bible actually happened. The objectively viewed evidence finally ripped apart my belief in Joseph Smith, his Book of Mormon, the other LDS scriptures, and the priesthood authority of General Authorities. This process took several months and as I researched each new area of Mormon doctrine and LDS assertions.
In doctoral school, I loved statistics. My stats professor was the best. He had been teaching stats for 40 years and was about to retire. One day he said something that has stayed with me to this day. He said, “I’ve been analyzing data most of my life and I’m not sure the evidence-based, scientific method is as valid and reliable as I once thought it was. Often there are multiple ways to interpret the same data set.” I think it was at that moment that I knew science would be my profession but not my god. Perhaps all things important cannot be measured by science as we understand it today.
In addition to testing the objective evidence of Mormonism, I wanted to examine the subjective, more personal part of faith. Since pieces of Mormonism were now clearly false in my mind, was belief in Christ also unmerited? Because of my past experiences with Christ, I was loath to throw out the proverbial Immanuel baby with the dirty LDS bath water unless the inquiry warranted that I must. I had determined to do so if this investigation turned sour as well. I decided to test the value of faith in Jesus by reading and studying the words of Christ Himself.
At first I looked for Jesus’ words in the Book of Mormon. Oops. The first person account of Christ’s words supposedly from the Christ who supposedly visited the Americas were only found in a small section of Third Nephi in the Book of Mormon, so I had to go to the New Testament to read the words of Christ. This was to be my final undoing as some would say, my saving (salvation) as others see it. This was a different Christ. I discovered what Micah already knew but had not told us. The Biblical Christ Himself opposed Mormon doctrine. His very words in the Bible were repeatedly contradictory to the doctrine of Mormonism. This is also well documented by innumerable sources but I won’t get into particulars here.
For me, Christ’s words in the Bible had a great impact on my soul. Mormons use a touchy-feely thing to “prove” their testimonies in Mormonism are true. For example, “I know the church is true. I know Joseph Smith was a prophet. I prayed and felt it was true.” But the Bible says that the heart is deceptive above all else. The impact that reading Christ’s words in the Bible had on me was not nebulous, ambiguous, vague, and warm like the “burning in the bosom” experience Mormonism teaches and expects, but reading the words of the biblical Christ simply, literally changed me from the inside out because I came to think differently.
After examining the objective and the more subjective, I was brought to a point of decision: (a) believe the words of Christ in the Bible that had the power to drastically alter my thinking, (b) believe Mormon doctrine as stated by representative men with “priesthood authority” in the Ensign, General Conference, Doctrine and Covenants, Joseph Smith translation of the Bible, etc., or (c) renounce faith in Jesus altogether. I know many discover the falsehood of Mormonism but never want to trust Christ again because in Mormonism one equates Christ with the Church. Then knowing the LDS Church is false can cause one to jump to the conclusion that Christ is a fraud as well. This conclusion seems to make good rational sense. But before I made it, I realized that the LDS Church has hijacked the real Christ and distorted Him into something He is not. I knew the LDS Jesus. Now I knew the One in the Bible. The difference was striking.
I’m not suggesting I have learned to leave reason behind again and trust another “religion” like Mormonism. Never again will I do that. What I have learned to do is to know and to trust Christ Himself by reading His words in the Bible. There’s a gargantuan difference between faith in Christ and faith in a religion. This is what Robert Millet, former Dean of Religious Education at BYU and spokesperson for the Church in conversations between an evangelical and a Mormon said about the Mormon religion. In his book Alive in Christ: The Miracle of Spiritual Rebirth, Millet stated, "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is absolutely indispensable to our salvation. No supposed personal relationship with Jesus, no commitment to the gospel, no high level of Christian conduct in society can compensate for what is to be found in the Church" (p. 140). In fact I discovered the exact opposite is true. No church can compensate for what is found in Christ Jesus.
After the revolutionary transformation reading about the Biblical Christ was making in me, there was no contest between the sources and the choice. His words caused me to think differently and that new thinking produced new behavior. The change, the renovation, the “born-again” experience as some would say, is something I can never deny nor perhaps can someone ever measure except by observing before and after actions (which in social science does constitute measurable change). To me it is as real as anything that has ever happened to me. Mormons often criticize ex-Mormons by stating, “You leave the Church but you can’t leave the Church alone.” As someone who has experienced a grand paradigm shift, I understand the compelling desire for LDS folks I love to make it, too. Gratitude for the changed life drives what I think, decisions I make, and what I do. So in the end I learned Mormonism was false yet I kept faith in Christ because of an astonishing metamorphosis that occurred steadily in my own thinking and behavior by reading His words in the Bible.
Frankly, separation from the LDS Church was brutal because of the relationships I knew it would alter for the rest of my life. Would it tear my own family apart? I’d been attached to the LDS Church and her people, especially my own husband and children, for a long time. In the end, one of the new behaviors rethinking developed in me was authenticity and it was so freeing. I knew I could not live a lie. Nor did I want to deceive BYU students by representing the LDS Church to them. Once I realized that Mormonism was false, I made a conscious decision not to be a “cultural Mormon” as some who know the truth decide to do. I am not passing judgment on what others do. I am only stating what I knew I had to do. I knew I had to leave my beloved BYU and the LDS Church. I resigned from both.
I find in the pages of the Bible layer upon layer of continual wisdom. The One Triune God I meet there is so much larger, more powerful, compassionate, and personal than I could ever have imagined. I have learned to trust Him. I’ll give two concrete examples of what He did when I expressed faith and trust in Him and came to know Him. There are so many examples from this new life.
In Isaiah 50:4 I read, “He wakens me morning by morning, wakens my ear to listen like one being taught.” One morning I woke to the quiet words in my ear or maybe it was a clear thought in my head, “The job you should take will come looking for you.” This was unusual. I had no idea God could bring me a job. I still thought I was responsible to do everything for myself. Michael and I had decided I should leave BYU but did not know where to go. It was the middle of June and still I had no job for the fall so I could leave the Y. One day while standing in my kitchen in Alpine, Utah the phone rang. When I said hello, the woman at the other end of the line introduced herself as the Dean of the College of Education in a university far away, said she had my curriculum vitae in front of her (I had not applied there), and wanted to offer me a one-year visiting professor position that she did not have to advertise but would like me to consider. I hung up the phone and was overwhelmed with shock and elation. I couldn’t believe what this God could do and how much He loves me and was caring for me personally.
I accepted the job. We moved across the country a few weeks later. The next year a permanent position opened up at that university and I was chosen among 37 candidates. This turned out to be one of the few state-run universities that did not have to downside faculty when the economic downturn hit. Miraculously, it is in the city where my 80-something father lives. Three months after we moved, my father fell off a ladder and was life-lined unconscious to the hospital. A nurse called my number in his cell phone and I hurried to be by his side. He recovered but I was so relieved to be near him.
The second example of an uncanny experience that demonstrates what God can do when you trust Him occurred to us in the spring of 2008 during the housing market downturn. We had moved to Florida but still owned our home in Utah. When we left the summer before, we had made a half-hearted effort to sell our home by putting it on the MLS and listing it on Craig’s List, but had given up since we had good renters during that winter and home values were down. One day in April, a couple from California drove by our home and saw the For Sale by Owner sign still up in the front yard, now visible under the melted snow. Our neighborhood was pretty isolated. Rarely did anyone who didn’t live there drive through it. The Californians called my husband’s cell number on the sign, the renters let them in to see the house, and a couple days later they offered a decent amount for the house. It was the most amazing thing—selling the house when it wasn’t technically on the market.
Many Christians now ask me completely perplexed, “How can a half-way intelligent person get caught up in Mormonism?” It’s a great question. Michael and I were young, married, and seeking faith. Neither of us knew the Bible well at the time and we bought it all—hook, line, and sinker. We thought that Mormonism would answer all of our needs for knowing and serving God. It seemed to, for almost 30 years. But what the self-centered, works-based faith satisfied was our own pride as we merrily marched our way to godhood. We were following the wrong god. The right God says in Isaiah 1:18, “Come, now, let us reason together.” The truth is not found by depending on “burning in the bosom” emotions or listening with blind faith to LDS Church leaders.
I came to the heart of Mormonism to learn the heart of Mormonism. And, it opened my eyes. This knowledge saved me from the false religion of Mormonism and from myself to the only One who could save me: the Jesus Christ of the Bible. Perhaps someday someone will say, “If a BYU professor can rethink the LDS Church…” I highly recommend it. As Someone smarter than I am once said, “Come, let us reason together.”
Lynn is a wife, mother, grandmother, scholar, and author with a doctorate in education. In her 11 years as a professor and researcher, and 20 years as a teacher, she has mentored thousands of students and has produced more than 50 scholarly publications. Her sphere of research is how to advance the academic and social-emotional success of "marginalized" students. Indeed, this very interest led her to question Mormonism. Once tenured faculty at BYU, Dr. Wilder left in 2008 when she experienced a crisis of faith.
For more information about Lynn and family, email her at LynnKWilder@hotmail.com or go to: