hi my name is Tanner and today I'm gonna be reading you a story about why I left the Mormon Church I am a thoroughbred Mormon of Pioneer stock my grandmother's line goes all the way back to one of Mormonism's founding members Martin Harris growing up Mormonism wasn't just a religion it was a way of life that encompassed every sense of my identity and purpose like most Mormons I got baptized when I turned eight because Joseph Smith said that's the age that people become fully accountable for their actions that's right on Judgment Day God is going to try eight-year-olds of bowls maybe Joseph Smith should have realized that eight-year-old brains aren't even developed enough to do much abstract thought or properly distinguish between imagination and reality but hey what can you expect from a guy who married fourteen-year-old girls my baptism is the first time I can remember feeling the Holy Ghost I felt warm and light like there was a candle in my chest I didn't know that any religious or cultural right is capable of producing that exact same feeling so I an eight-year-old felt good for accepting the only afterlife insurance plan that have ever been pitched to me my faith continued to grow through ecstatic emotional experiences that almost always involved music I'd sing about Jesus and feel so much love for myself and for other people that it couldn't help but let the tears just flow the music made me so grateful that Jesus cared for us enough to die for us and that according to the church all he has in return is that you feel godly sorrow for every shortcoming big or small abstain from coffee avoid loud laughter read the scriptures every day don't dream forego premarital sex follow the Prophet no matter what fight gay marriage pay to go on a two-year full-time mission don't touch yourself get married have kids pay ten percent of your income have more kids say yes to every Church calling vote against medical marijuana have more kids and seriously don't you ever talk bad about the prophets and that last he'll let you and your family where you can be gods of your own planet those early experiences confirmed the things that I had been taught were real the church told me those experiences were more than a feeling they were transmissions of truth directly to me from God who happened to be an evolved white polygamists named Elohim who lives on a planet near the star so I accepted that I knew beyond all reasonable doubt that God lived I was also conditioned to associate that emotional experience with the setting in which I felt it so I accepted that the church was true that Joseph Smith was a prophet and that these kinds of emotional experiences were exclusive to church members throughout high school I became more and more devout as I attended church summer camps youth conferences early-morning seminary and pioneer Trek which is where Mormon youth LARP around is old-timey polygamous pulling hand carts around the desert so they can truly understand the sacrifices their ancestors made to avoid thinking for themselves I was on fire my entire life was focused on serving a two-year mission for the church I didn't drink or swear or watch pg-13 movies or watch porn or steady date or any normal teenage thing that would distract me from my spiritual preparation to be a missionary by the time I began my freshman year of college the gospel was the only thing I really cared about I only listened to church music my favorite activity was getting together with friends to sing hymns or to do baptisms for the dead you know how you go to a ritzy indoor pool on the back of twelve oxen to get dunked underwater on behalf of all your deceased relatives you get it I spent as much of my free time as I could at the College Institute of religion there I took a handful of religion classes saying in the choir taught the men's group and spent countless hours in the library reading doctrinal books and biographies of church leaders finally I was assigned to serve in the Brazil's Roman pessoa mission and in the fall of 2009 I entered the Missionary Training Center in Sao Paulo despite my spiritual experiences in the church I had never had any spiritual confirmations about the church I'd read the book of Mormon multiple times and despite praying fervently for several hours at a time in my room in the forest at the top of a mountain I never received an answer that it was true nor did I receive confirmation that Joseph Smith was a prophet or that the church was true in the Missionary Training Center I prayed and prayed for a testimony of the Book of Mormon how can I promise other people they could get an answer if I couldn't get one finally after one very late night on my knees I decided the reason I didn't get an answer was because I already knew it was true ain't no answer like no answer that Olympic level mental gymnastics gave me enough momentum to enter the actual mission field where I experienced the greatest disappointment of my life you see the mission was nothing like I expected rather than performing miracles and touching hearts with the power of pure testimony spoken with the gift of tongues I saw missionaries using scummy sales tactics to baptize children on mass so that they could get their name in the monthly mission newsletter I was devastated I couldn't believe I had spent my whole life preparing to be a door-to-door salesman the first months were hellish I went to bed every night absolutely exhausted my legs throbbing from trying to keep up with my long legged trainer who didn't speak a lick of English I woke up everyday horrified at the prospect of starting a new day I'd never felt so alone and miserable I honestly hoped I'd get hit by a bus so I could be sent home with honour over time I got used to mission life my Portuguese improved and I began to enjoy the work I had some up and downs including times of depression but overall I felt glad to finally be doing what I felt I was put on the earth to do which is spread the gospel of Jesus Christ I ended my mission as an assistant to the mission president a man who I still regard with great love when I returned home I attended BYU Idaho because it was cheap and I thought it would be the best place to find a nice Mormon wife who could be the mother of my children while in school I received an assignment to be an executive secretary which meant I had meetings every Sunday from 6:30 a.m. until 4:00 p.m. and every Tuesday night that was on top of a full course load and two jobs in my spare time I played in bands perform stand-up comedy i think if i a republican party more people would come party we doubt our suits we drink red kool-aid play pin the blame on the dog t helps produce a late-night cable talk show and of course read biographies and books of church leaders my favorite was hard line her Spencer W Kimball famous for teaching the masturbation would turn you gay and that if the Native Americans repented they would turn white a close friend saw that I was reading about Kimball and asked me about the revelation that gave the priesthood to members of African descent in 1978 I told him I'd look more into it my whole life I was taught the past presidents of the church and begged the Lord to extend the priesthood and temple covenants but were forbidden from some unknown reason until the celebrated policy change in 1978 what I discovered is that the real reason was that church leaders were just racist former Church President Joseph fielding Smith wrote not only was Cain called upon to suffer but because of his wickedness he became the father of an inferior race a curse was placed upon him and that curse has continued through his lineage and must do so while time indoors millions of souls have come into this world cursed with a black skin and have been denied the privilege of priesthood in the fullness of the blessings of the gospel you may be thinking wow that's resourceful well you're not for all the genetic mutation that produced deep pigmented skin didn't arrive until thousands of years later as humans migrated to colder climates the biblical narrative that is also canonized in the Mormon pearl of great price is unscientific white supremacy unfortunately Joseph fielding Smith wasn't the lone white supremacist second president of the church Brigham Young said publicly you see some classes of the human family that are black uncouth uncomely disagreeable and low in their habits wild and seemingly deprived of nearly all the blessings of intelligence that is generally bestowed upon mankind even threatened those who interracially married with death and prophesied multiple times that if the church mingled with black people it would lose the priesthood other presidents of the church George Smith David McKay and Harold Lee taught that people of color were disloyal spirits before coming to earth apostle Mark Peterson spoke in favor of segregation Ezra Benson also a president of the church not only sided with the church in opposing the civil rights movement he also wrote the forward to the book black hammer a study of black power red influence and white alternatives not a good look official letters from the first presidency reinforced the racial ban as an official doctrine of the church that could not be changed around that same time I encountered the church's essay on race and the priesthood which denounced former leaders racist teachings but that actually made me more confused if the Brethren could be so wrong on something so important that affected the temporary and eternal happiness of so many people what else could they be wrong about was the rhetoric about homosexuality for instance just their own prejudice that would eventually be renounced by later prophets I was shaken but not stirred little did I know this was just the beginning of my dive into the rabbit hole I soon found other things the test of my faith one night after reading a Greg Trimble article I came across a list of Book of Mormon and Akron isms for folks who may not know an anachronism is a an artifact that doesn't belong in a story's timeline for instance a cell phone appearing in a story about the civil war or tennis shoes appearing among the Nephites or Nephites appearing in any story at all the mention of such misplaced artifacts indicates that a story is a modern fabrication the Book of Mormon has a long list of anachronism z' horses chariots steel elephants cattle goats swine these things didn't exist in America during the time the Book of Mormon is alleged to have taken place and these aren't small details that have just slipped through archaeology's cracks horses chariots or steel alone would have dramatically reshaped indigenous American culture leaving dramatic and permanent marks on architecture oral histories warfare making diet transportation language and traditions but there isn't a trace some Church scholars say that during the translation process Joseph saw things he didn't have names for so he just called them by the names he was familiar with thus they argue that a horse could have referred to a tapir or that a chariot could be a sled and the goats could have meant deer as if Joseph Smith wouldn't know the difference between a goat and a deer furthermore we know that Joseph Smith had no problem coming up with original names like he did for the animals coulombs and comes the faithful justifications Alba crumbled under the most basic applications of reason more things about the book became suspect The Tree of Life story was an obvious variation on a dream by Joseph Smith's father Nephi's boat was beyond mere miraculous is a complete logistical impossibility I felt like I was suffocating on my own breath I drove out to the fields on the outskirts of Rexburg to pray aloud if there ever was a time I needed an answer to a prayer it was then I felt like my world was crumbling and that there was nobody else I could turn to for support I prayed and prayed and cried and cried and cried and after several hours I finally decided enough was enough God was not going to answer me somehow I still cling to my faith it was the only thing I really cared about so I held on I figured that this was going to be my abrahamic test after which I would finally receive my long awaited witness of the surety of the gospel so I recommended myself to study for the next year and a half I spent an average of 6 hours a day reading everything I could about Mormon history and doctrine when I wasn't reading I was listening to church apologists and historians on the Mormon stories podcast I wasn't looking for reasons to leave I wasn't even reading anti Mormons because I was looking for reasons to stay I wanted to understand I knew that if I could figure it out I could help others who were doubting to me it felt like a calling the next big blow to my testimony was polygamy I was taught that polygamy was God's temporary plan to raise up children after so pioneer men had been killed by anti-mormon mobs that was of course totally false Joseph Smith's first plural wife was Fanny Alger a teenage girl who was living and working in the Smith home besides the obvious power imbalance this marriage gets a few other red flags it is telling that neither Joseph's first wife Emma nor his right-hand man Oliver Cowdery viewed his transaction in the barn as a legitimate relationship Oliver called it a dirty nasty filthy scrape their disgust seems reasonable considering Joseph had not even yet received the sealing power the something Mormons believe is necessary to make marriage valid in the eyes of God eventually Joseph dictated the revelation on polygamy wherein he said and again as pertaining to the law of the priesthood If any man is foes a virgin and desire to espouse another and the first gift for consent and if he espoused the second and they are virgins and have vowed to no other men then he is justified he cannot commit adultery for they are given unto him for he cannot commit adultery with that that belongeth unto him and to no one else ignoring the unbelievably archaic sexism of a God who gives virgin girls as gifts we see a clear rule that Joseph was required to get his first wife's consent to take new wives and that they needed to be virgins Joseph however failed to comply with his own Commandments he repeatedly lied to Emma and the church about his affairs and at least 10 of his wives already had husbands on at least one occasion Joseph Smith sent a man on a mission and then proposed to his wife while he was away Mormon apologists defend that by saying that's not true he only did that twice perhaps worst of all was his coercive sexual grooming tactics employed on girls as young as 14 accompanying his proposals were promises of salvation for entire families and threats of destruction by angels with drawn swords the church scholars I look to for answers disappointed me every time some argued that Joseph Smith may not have had sex with some or any of his plural wives yet the only justification given any where in scripture for polygamy is to raise children so it is both illogical and unscriptural to assume that he didn't have or intend to have sex with all of his wives Joseph Smith aside there is no doubt that other leaders like Brigham Young John Taylor and Wilford Woodruff also took underage wives once church leaders began practicing polygamy openly in Utah they also began denouncing the evils of monogamy Brigham Young taught monogamy or restrictions by law to one wife is no part of the economy of heaven among men such a system was commenced by the founders of the Roman Empire Rome became the mistress of the world and introduced this order of monogamy wherever her sway was acknowledged thus this monogamous order of marriage so esteemed by modern Christians as a holy sacrament and divine institution is nothing but a system established by a set of robbers I don't remember reading about that in the family a proclamation to the world similar to the prophecies about race several leaders also prophesied that the church that if the church ever abandoned polygamy it would lose the priesthood thus you can imagine the shock when Wilford Woodruff issued the manifesto in 1890 which claimed to end the practice of polygamy however the manifesto was just a PR smokescreen church leaders continued performing plural marriages in secret until 1904 when President Joseph F Smith remembered the F issued a second manifesto that officially ended the practice during the read Smoot hearings president Smith testified before Congress saying that none of the Apostles after Joseph Smith had been called through revelation and that besides the manifesto he wasn't aware of any revelation being received in the church for the previous 20 years it's an awful long time to go without revelation for a church that claims to be led by continuing revelation the damning information kept pouring in I learned that Joseph Smith's family had practiced ritual magic and that before producing the Book of Mormon he was a fraudulent treasure hunter I learned about how he had given multiple contradictory first vision accounts and that the church had used the version written over a decade after the fact I learned about the translation process of the Book of Mormon I learned about how the witnesses of the gold plates had only seen them in their imagination with their spiritual eyes I had learned about the doctrinal changes to the Book of Mormon and how biblical errors and additions found in the Smith family Bible had also made their way into the Book of Mormon I learned about Joseph Smith appropriating Masonic rites for temple rituals and how contrary to church teachings those rituals had changed time and time again I learned about the Danites a group of violent saints who killed on Joseph Smith's orders I learned about the Council of 50 and Joseph's plan Joseph's plan to replace the United States government with a theocracy even going so far as to anoint himself as king I learned about how the Book of Abraham had been completely discredited by Egyptologists how the papyri was a common funeral text that had nothing to do with Abraham I learned about how Joseph Smith had begun to translate the fraudulent Kinderhook plates and how the church affirmed the hoax for the next hundred years I learned that Brigham Young's Transfiguration story was a myth created many years after the fact by people who weren't even in attendance I learned about the blood atonement doctrine which requires death for anyone who breaks their temple oaths I learned about the political maneuvering in the quorum of the twelve I learned about how prophets had been deceived by the clever forgeries of Mark Hofmann I learned about how the church had routinely punished people for speaking their truth about the darker sides of church history I learned about how the church had hidden its finances contrary to its own teachings I learned how the church had protected sexual abusers and silenced or punished their victims time and time again I learned how the church had continually marginalized mischaracterize and oppressed the LGBTQ community causing incalculable damage to vulnerable queer members and their families during that time I worked as a counselor for the church's youth summer program especially for youth it was the funnest most rewarding job I ever had I loved working with the youth and hope that my personal quest for true would help them resolve their doubts yet still I wondered if I was a hypocrite I promised them that they could receive an answer to their prayers and yet I was unable to get one for mine after graduation my best friend Samantha and I got jobs in the marketing department of the churches publishing arm Deseret book the people I worked with were wonderful but the job further disillusioned me by demonstrating how the church operates like any other business it was all about the bottom line eventually Samantha and I both landed writing jobs in Logan Utah there my continued study led me further and further into spiritual isolation I never once stopped reading my scriptures I cling to them I never stopped printing in fact I prayed more fervently and frequently than ever before but there was nothing I started reading another book by believing historian D Michael Quinn the Mormon hierarchy extensions of power as I pored through old church leadership smeeting minutes journals letters and discourses I was struck with how human it all was there didn't seem to be any divine hand anywhere there was politicking marketing and bickering and there were and it was no more inspired than any other group of men who knew how to dress up their will as God's I closed the book and decided to read the book of Mormon again I opened and started reading about the ancient Prophet Nephi who was told by the spirit to kill a defenseless drunk it made me sick imagine if you heard a voice in your head telling you to kill someone think about it what would you do I know what I'd do I checked myself into a mental hospital because any voice that is telling me to kill a defenseless person is not a voice of the God of love I closed that book and started watching a movie Samantha had recommended to me going clear Scientology and the prison of belief during the course of that film I was struck by the similarities between l ron Hubbard and Joseph Smith and also between Brigham Young and David Miscavige and between the way both churches handle Outsiders and dissidents Mormonism has their anti Mormons Scientology has their so pressive persons as i listened to stories of ex Scientologists I was shocked by their sincerity they had all deeply believed they had the truth that would save the world they were so ecstatic but as time went on more and more things failed to add up until finally they had to accept the devastating reality that they had been bamboozled was I any less susceptible to deception than then I had been indoctrinated since I was born how could I trust myself to be unbiased I then asked myself if I was in a cult would I want to know it of course the answer was yes and then it hit me I was in a cult the reason I couldn't find answers was because there were none to find it was all smoke mirrors men behind curtains amplifying their voices to sound like God when the movie ended I emailed my bishop and told him I could no longer be his secretary the next Sunday at church was my last during Sunday school the teacher read a statement from church leaders demonizing people who leave the church then he said we all know people who have left the church because they wanted to sin for the first time in my life I swore out loud I said when the class ended I walked out and never went back the past few years since leaving the church had been marked with peaks and troughs but I can say without hesitation it was the best thing to ever happen to me every single day I am consciously grateful that I made it out and that's why I do this work so that I can pass it on to someone else who's going through such a traumatic event in the last few years I've explored and reclaimed my identity my sexuality my spirituality and even my Mormon heritage my Mormon past shaped me who I am today and I love Who I am today I'm so content with where my life has gone that if I could go back I wouldn't change a thing