Years ago when my son left the church, I chose to dig deep and find the answers to the dif­fi­cult ques­tions about church his­to­ry and its doctrine.

I went into this ven­ture with full con­fi­dence that I would find the faith affirm­ing answers that would help save my son’s eter­nal sal­va­tion. Because of this effort to under­stand and save my son, I would now describe myself as an unortho­dox Mormon.

When I say this, let me be very clear about what I mean, to try and min­i­mize any misunderstanding.

In my lived expe­ri­ence, the church’s truth claims that are taught in Sun­day school every week are taught in a very sim­pli­fied and faith affirm­ing manner.

I no longer believe many, many of these points as “lit­er­al­ly” true as they are taught in this sim­plest fash­ion. I now rec­og­nize that truth claims are not quite that sim­ple and may only be true if you also take into con­sid­er­a­tion when and how they are not true.

There are only a few beliefs that I would now say I “know” are true.

And in this case by say­ing, “I know”, I mean that I have had per­son­al expe­ri­ences that lead me to believe deeply, but am open to fur­ther light and knowl­edge on everything.

  • I believe God exists.
  • I believe He is active in my life.
  • I believe in the pow­er of prayer.
  • I believe deeply in inspi­ra­tion. I see it everywhere.
  • I believe life con­tin­ues after this one.
  • I believe in a lov­ing and just God who will eval­u­ate our lives accord­ing to what we know, how we know it, and how we used that knowl­edge in our lives to help those around us.

Every­thing else is up in the air for me and I am open to fur­ther light and knowledge.

Some of the church’s sim­pli­fied truth claims I know are NOT true, in the way they are taught. Some of the church’s truth claims I still hope are true, but fear there is a strong pos­si­bil­i­ty that they are not.

My most impor­tant quest in this life has always been to seek dis­cern­ment. I have often prayed for this spir­i­tu­al gift in the past and active­ly seek it still to this day.

What do I mean by discernment?

  • I want to know what is.
  • I want to under­stand what is true and what is false.
  • I am will­ing to accept an uncom­fort­able truth and give up a com­fort­able lie.
  • I want to seek truth as best as it can be under­stood in this life.

At my core, I rec­og­nize I am human with many flaws.

  • I rec­og­nize that my per­cep­tions and under­stand­ing can be wrong.
  • I can be sub­ject to con­fir­ma­tion bias.
  • I some­times have ignored uncom­fort­able truths because of cog­ni­tive dissonance.
  • I can be over­con­fi­dent if I assume I have seen it all.

I am not alone. I have learned that each and every one of us can be sub­ject to these exact same flaws and cog­ni­tive biases.

So I have learned that this pur­suit of seek­ing dis­cern­ment and truth must also be accom­pa­nied with humility.

For­tu­nate­ly, humil­i­ty is my great­est attribute. (Failed attempt at humor.)

In the church we are taught to be hum­ble. But it feels that the way the church teach­es us to be hum­ble seems to be that we need to be sub­mis­sive to church lead­ers, no mat­ter what.

Yes. We are taught to get our own answers through prayer about what we are taught. BUT we are also taught there is only one cor­rect answer to these prayers (Elder Oaks talk about the two lines of com­mu­ni­ca­tion). And that cor­rect answer is what the leader has already taught.

This is not the humil­i­ty I am talk­ing about. To me that def­i­n­i­tion of humil­i­ty feels more like the prin­ci­ple of being sub­mis­sive­ness to authority.

When I talk about humility:

  • I am talk­ing about the humil­i­ty to rec­og­nize the pos­si­bil­i­ty that I can be wrong and you can be wrong.
  • I am talk­ing about the humil­i­ty of being will­ing to be open to either a yes or a no answer to any question.
  • I am talk­ing about the humil­i­ty to not just seek con­firm­ing evi­dence that only sup­ports the answer I want to be true, but to be open to all evi­dence and to fol­low truth, wher­ev­er it may lead.

What do I mean by being hum­ble enough to be open to either a yes or no answer?

Here is an example:

Ques­tion: Is the church true?

  • Am I will­ing to con­sid­er the pos­si­bil­i­ty that the answer could be no?
  • If I am not will­ing to seri­ous­ly con­sid­er this pos­si­bil­i­ty, am I tru­ly humble?
  • If I will only seek con­firm­ing evi­dence to this ques­tion to sup­port my desire that the church is true, then how am I any bet­ter than the cyn­ic who believes the church is false and will only look at neg­a­tive evi­dence to sup­port his/her position?

Sad­ly, I was this kind of per­son most of my life.

I want­ed the church to be true in the way it was teach­ing me it was true. In my past ortho­dox life, I would only seek con­firm­ing evi­dence to sup­port my posi­tion that I want­ed the church to be true, no mat­ter what, and total­ly ignored or seri­ous­ly dis­count­ed oth­er wit­ness­es to the contrary.

If it were not for my deep desire to help save my son’s eter­nal soul, I would prob­a­bly still be that kind of person.

So what do I now desire?

  • I desire to be hum­ble and open to truth as best as I can under­stand it.
  • I desire to be open to exam­ine all wit­ness­es and pur­sue truth to the best of my flawed human abilities.
  • And I leave the rest to faith.

So why do I say I no longer believe many, many of the truth claims of the church as they are taught in their sim­plest forms in Sun­day school, gen­er­al con­fer­ence, sacra­ment meet­ing, and seminary?

Let’s exam­ine just one of those truth claims.

Truth Claim: The Book of Mor­mon is True.

What was I taught in Sun­day school about this truth claim?

  • The Book of Mor­mon is the most cor­rect book on earth.
  • It con­tains the full­ness of the gospel.
  • Nephi was a real per­son, who lived in a real place and the things he wrote that he did, he did. The Book of Mor­mon is a lit­er­al his­to­ry of real people.

So here are a few ques­tions to consider.

  • What is the plan of sal­va­tion as taught in the Book of Mor­mon? (Hint: what hap­pens after death?)
  • How does that com­pare to the plan of sal­va­tion as taught today in Gospel Essen­tials class?
  • How can you rec­on­cile these dif­fer­ences? (Hint: D&C 19)
  • Was the broth­er of Jared a real per­son, who lived short­ly after a glob­al flood when all lan­guages on the earth were the same?

This is just one lit­tle exam­ple of why I say I am unorthodox.

You can take this exam­ple and fol­low the pat­tern for every sin­gle truth claim of the church.

  • What is the claim?
  • What are the chil­dren taught in Sun­day school?
  • Fol­lowed by log­i­cal ques­tions about what does that real­ly mean, repeat­ed 5 times?

And in a nut­shell, that is why I now describe myself as unorthodox.

To me, the sim­ple truth claims that are taught in Sun­day school are, often, so sim­pli­fied in order to be faith affirm­ing that they become dis­con­nect­ed from the real­i­ty of what is and what was.

From my per­spec­tive, this dis­con­nect, often, push­es the sim­pli­fied truth claims into the ter­ri­to­ry of being inspi­ra­tional, but not always found­ed upon what is true.

My only desire is to be able to under­stand and see what is, even if this dis­cov­ery is uncom­fort­able in the moment.

I want to under­stand what is real and true, as best as can be under­stood in this mor­tal life.

What is your desire?

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Eric Nelson
February 24, 2016 1:21 pm

Great arti­cle, James. Very thought­ful. I hope to read more from you in the future.