2009-2014: An Odyssey Without Answers in a Changing Church

The first time I attended an LDS church meeting was on 10th October 1971. I was 18 years old, and had been contacted on the doorstep five days previously by two young American elders, who were only a year or two older than me. They told me I would really enjoy their church meetings, and so, wearing jeans and a colourful shirt, I was escorted by them early on that Sunday morning to two meetings which they explained were called Priesthood and Sunday School. The local Branch President, in whose home I had been taught earlier that week, kindly provided the 10-mile lift for us to and from the meetings.

The meeting place was some rented rooms in a terraced Georgian house at Green Park, Bath. The congregation consisted of about 30 people, including four American missionary elders and three investigators. Half of the total congregation consisted of children or youth, and there were just four resident priesthood holders, the most senior of them, the founder member of the Bath Branch, having been a member for about 15 years. I was welcomed warmly.

During Priesthood time, the elders taught me a missionary discussion in a side room. That was followed by a special lesson for the investigators taught from a manual by the Branch President. I recall that lesson clearly. It was about the voluntary nature of priesthood service, and how a bishop, (translated for me as a branch president), might, in the course of his duties, receive a distress call from a member of his congregation at any hour of the day, and would respond to it. Apparently all service in the church was unpaid from top to bottom. It was a wonderful system emulating the service given by Jesus and his disciples. There was a clearly defined hierarchy, and they were all there to help me. If I had a question about something to do with the church I should take it first to my home teacher who would be assigned as soon as I was baptised. If he could not answer it, I could ask the branch president. If the question was too difficult for him to answer, then it could be referred to the stake president. Finally, if the stake president could not answer, there were apostles, and of course the prophet, who could ask the Lord on my behalf, and the answer would be provided. That sounded beautiful. The fount of all wisdom was at my disposal, and it felt very comforting.

Now I mention this early episode in my association with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by way of an explanation. My name was recently identified with a summons served upon Thomas Spencer Monson, and some have questioned how I came to be involved in any capacity with this private criminal action brought against the Mormon President by Tom Phillips. I have had many adjectives applied to me since this became public, ranging from ‘unspeakable’ to ‘heroic’. It might even be said that my name has been had for good and evil among all nations, kindreds and tongues. Well, perhaps not exactly all of them yet, but sometimes it feels a little bit that way.

Of course, this has not all happened spontaneously in a vacuum. There is a history, and underlying that history throughout has been my trust in the reassuring lesson I heard that very first Sunday I attended a Mormon meeting. Obviously I cannot place in the public domain specific evidence which I may later be required to give in court, but in order to facilitate general understanding I have permission to point to certain existing narratives and documents from the last five years, which are already part of the internet community’s record:

[1] To start with, this excerpt from my journal for 11th January 2009 details the final tithing settlement I attended:

Bishop A came at about 6pm to see Diana and me. He is a good man, and I like him, but he appears somewhat overawed by his responsibility, and even a little frightened of dealing with me. The three of us talked, and I was open about my feelings. I would have shared my specific concerns if he had allowed it. He said he feels I am on the edge of apostasy, and warned me not to speak to others about what I have discovered through my research, or he might have to take action against me, which he didn’t want to do because he admires me, and remembers how I welcomed him when he first moved into the ward. He hoped I would choose to become “a wise old owl”, someone who would learn to say not much at church if I knew differently from the rest of the congregation, and he hoped that what I did say would be aimed at strengthening people’s faith. I said I was not so sure that playing that role was on either my agenda or the Lord’s. I told him I really need further guidance and answers to my questions. He sympathised but admitted he knows really very little about church history and the things I have encountered, and did not want to hear any details. I told him that as far as I was concerned apostasy is not the act of confronting history, but is more commonly encountered in the kind of idolatry which places priesthood leaders on pedestals, so that their actions may never be questioned.

I decided then and there that I really can no longer associate with any of that carry-on. I simply cannot un-know what I know, and I cannot pretend; to do so would be a recipe for an implosion of the soul. I confess I am a little hurt at hearing that the Bishop wouldn’t trust me as I am “on the precipice of apostasy”, but those are only words to describe matters from his limited perspective. He told me some obvious things I have long known, like the church is not perfect, and no man in it is. That is self-evident from the history, but that isn’t the problem. I wish they would stop covering up. I just wish they would say it from the stand more often, and that the church would fess up to its besmirched history and repent like any decent organisation would do if it genuinely did stand for truth. Bp A could not answer me when I asked why the Lord’s church deals in lies, as it does. He would not discuss any historical anomalies with me. I could tell he was afraid of finding out what I know, and so the long and the short of it is that he cannot and will not be able to assist me.

We had tithing settlement. I am a full tithe payer at present, but I am seriously considering stopping that, as I feel the money is being used to mislead, and should be put to better use.

[2] After more than 37 years of being a full tithe payer I cancelled my standing order later that same month. I continued to live what I considered to be a good and moral life, but my attendance at church of necessity also dropped off, and by 2010 it was a rarity for me to attend at all. When I did go it was to support my son or his family. One such occasion was on 25th April 2010, when I recorded:

The sacrament meeting was mostly a dirge. In fact Diana said to me, “it’s boring but at least it’s not controversial”, as if to reassure me. Afterwards Bro. B, (our new home teacher now that I am off the bishop’s own list), walked out with me to the car, and chatted with me in the car park. We have known each other for more than 25 years, and he is someone I truly respect. I told him I was happy to speak with him but warned him that I might be taking him into topic areas he doesn’t like. He said that I should have had someone to talk to. I told him I was told 15 months ago by Bp A that I must not speak outside my family to anyone about my feelings, upon pain of facing disciplinary action, but more recently he had relented and said I should be very selective if I talk to friends about my concerns. I said I don’t blame Bp A for leaving me alone because he is inexperienced and doesn’t want to know these things himself.

I told Bro. B I care only about the truth, and will support it wherever I find it. If I find I am in error I will change and admit it, even after 38 years, and it seems he is of the same mind, so with these caveats duly issued we will meet and talk soon.

He also said that he thinks our experience with certain leaders in recent years hasn’t helped. I said that what I am presently feeling should not be seen as the cumulative effect of indifferent leadership, although that experience has certainly encouraged me to question all things. We had a brief discussion about what he termed “the kinks in Joseph Smith”. I told him frankly that I didn’t care whether JS had 33 wives, or even if he, (Bro. B), did, because that is between them and the Lord, but I do care about the foundational claims of the church. If the Lord spoke to JS in the First Vision as reported and taught, then that is all that matters in determining that JS was the Lord’s mouthpiece.

He told me he is not worried about talking with me because he knows the gospel is true. I told him that I also know a gospel which is true, but its truthfulness doesn’t automatically mean that the institutional church’s claims are founded, and it is these which are under scrutiny. It has taken strength, not weakness, to reach a point at which I am strong enough to be able to admit I have been wrong on some things. When you find out you are wrong there are only two choices: admit it and change, or deny it and pretend. I cannot pretend. I said I would be happy to be part of “all this” again, (gesturing towards the chapel), if truth were Master, which would require some major changes, but until that time I would not be able to be involved, as it would require pretence on my part. Bro. B finished as he had started by saying that he wanted to meet with me, because he likes me, and wants to allow me to air my feelings, not because he is required to do so, but simply as a friend, and without any agenda of re-converting me.

[3]Unfortunately the promise of a more open dialogue which this conversation had seemingly offered did not materialise. Some months later we learned indirectly that Bro. B’s wife had been instrumental in dissuading him from getting involved. I do not know her reasons, but it was by now apparent that avoidance of open discussion about historical concerns was fast becoming the norm within modern LDS culture.

It was perhaps an opportunity missed, but in any case the next 18 months proved to be a time of poignant personal reflection. Our second son, aged 28, unexpectedly died in September 2010. The trauma of his passing caused me to analyse not only my deepest inner feelings, but also the past actions of my life which had served to frame and direct his short mortal experience. With a very tender heart, there were certain things I deeply regretted. One of those was my acquiescence in the racist attitudes of the church I had joined back in 1971. The church had changed its policy regarding Blacks and the priesthood in 1978, but it had never actually apologised for the racism which had become part of my worldview for at least two decades.  I had had several Black friends over the years, and while I trust I never actually showed it, in my time I had felt them to be spiritually inferior because of the teachings I had received during the first seven years of my membership. My moral antennae had told me that they were my equals in every way, but the church had taught me something else, and I had of course believed the church. I needed to apologise, and I was unwilling to wait longer on the church to act for all of its members, and so I decided to do it unilaterally. I knew it might upset some LDS members who were friends, but it was important to me to express my regret: and so in March 2012 I published online “A Public Apology”, http://www.petitionbuzz.com/petitions/apology

My younger daughter, Sophia, publicised fairly widely what I had done. This immediately drew fire from some conservative quarters of the LDS community, including from some members of my own ward, who decided to make a complaint to the Stake President about my initiative. Soon afterwards I received an invitation to meet for a discussion with the SP, Pres. J., and also Bp A. The executive secretary’s email explained:

They have invited you to meet with them to discuss your personal thoughts and feelings about your testimony, the Church and its teachings. In recent weeks a number of members of the… Ward have expressed concern about a message posted on Facebook relating to the 1978 declaration by the President of the Church that all worthy male members should be entitled to receive the priesthood and have access to the associated ordinances and blessings. The item was posted by Sophia and accessed by many who are Facebook friends. From a later communication that appeared on Facebook, there is a suggestion that you may have had some personal involvement in writing the statement.”

Sophia and I duly met with Pres J. and Bp A. on 25th April 2012. We conceded no ground over the Public Apology, and stated that it was the moral right of any individual to apologise for himself, regardless of what others might think of it. That was not challenged and was all dealt with in two minutes. Sophia, later that same evening, summarised the rest of the meeting as follows:

It went really well. I think they’re pretty confused as to why we might want to remain cultural Mormons, for our love of the people and for the identity that it offers, despite rejecting the doctrines of the church. But Pres. J was very accommodating, letting us discuss some issues that we had, and nodded along, even volunteered some issues himself (e.g. he brought up polygamy of his own accord, which allowed Dad an opportunity to discuss historical records of polyandry, etc.).

We were well listened to, and there were a couple of times when there were some shocked expressions and quiet moments, in particular regarding the Book of Abraham, which I’m not sure even Pres. J. was aware of (we showed him copies of the original papyrus against the BoA’s image and the image of Anubis and the mummy, which Dad ran them through, said that it was being taught in schools now, and was available in children’s books from the local library – I showed them a children’s book from the library with Anubis and the canopic jars – and I explained how I’d travelled to Egypt and sought out these things in person, at the Egyptian museum, papyrus museum, a man who studies comparative religions, etc.). So I don’t know what will be the outcome of that, but it was interesting to see and hear the reaction, at least.

Pres. J. said he understood Dad’s predicament, and expressed it was a very difficult problem for him to have to deal with. He said he’d need to go away to think and pray about what to do, followed by an hilarious moment when he said “And I want you to go away… [and think about what had been discussed]”, whereupon Dad, Bishop A and myself all burst out laughing, and Dad said “I bet you do! Where would you like me to go? Onto Pres. M’s patch perhaps?”, whereupon Pres. J. laughed and said “No, I wouldn’t wish that on the man”. One of the few light moments of the evening, but a positive experience, I think.

Dad feels Pres. J. will have to go away and talk to the Area Presidency. He was obviously quite concerned by the thought of Dad publishing more papers, and the media involvement should disciplinary action be taken against Dad for telling the truth.

The nice thing was that Pres. J. did tell Dad that he knew that Dad was a man of integrity and honesty, and he respects him for that, regardless of whether we have different attitudes towards the doctrines of the Church. So that was really good: after years of Dad being badmouthed in certain quarters, accused of being corrupted or unrighteous, it was good that this was said, and Dad was very grateful for that sentiment. We’ll just have to wait and see what happens, I suppose.

[4] On 12th June 2012 I received an email from the Stake President. It was couched in friendly terms, which I appreciated, informing me: “Having had a little time to reflect on the recent meeting… I would welcome the opportunity to meet again to talk about your feelings towards the Church and its teachings.”

I responded with similar cordiality, and an appointment on 12th July was arranged for us to continue our discussion. Before that meeting I decided that in order to be fair I should provide some academic findings which fundamentally challenged the LDS position on one important issue. I did not wish to force this information upon Pres. J. against his will, and so attached a file to my email, leaving him to decide whether or not he would look at the information. I wrote:

“Some time ago I prepared some notes on how I felt about one particular issue which deeply affects my understanding of things LDS. I drafted it because a couple of well-intentioned persons had asked me to share my concerns with them. You are the first however actually to receive it. The document comes with a caveat, which is that it does contain information which I believe would severely challenge anyone in their existing LDS belief.

It is something of a catch-22, because if you are looking to get a good handle on how I might present my case, you will need to have a working understanding of the contents, and yet that understanding might possibly lead to you being in my position yourself before long. So I attach it with that warning, and it’s your choice. I have always taken the view myself that truth cannot be harmed by investigation, but that no longer appears to be the orthodox LDS outlook, and you may take a different position. If your current assignment is merely to monitor rather than to engage with the root causes of my dilemma, I fully accept that you may choose not to read it.

As I say, you are the first to receive this, so to date I have not shared it with anyone else, and only with you after issuing fair warning. I’d like to emphasise that point in order to establish that this document is not in itself evidence of actionable LDS apostasy, but rather is just an indication of the awkward juxta-positioning of scholarly evidence, (i.e. demonstrable truth), with my allegedly heretical stance. This will be the focal point perhaps of further discussion about my standing.

I look forward to seeing you on 12th. It’s a pity it has to be about this though.”

Pres. J responded four days later:

Hi Chris – thanks for confirming the date and time. I look forward to seeing you at 10.00 on 12.07 at your home. I appreciate you sending the document but have chosen not to open at this time.

The meeting on 12th July 2012 seemed really to be more of a social visit than anything else, and passed pleasantly without anything of note being resolved. That was the last time that my feelings were discussed with the Stake President. It was apparent that he was not prepared to engage in the subject areas where I needed support and answers. Although that was not helpful to me, I respected him for taking that position, since he was after all just a Stake President, with a family and other everyday concerns, and not a General Authority who was paid to represent the church.

[5] It was now becoming very apparent that I would need to take my concerns to a higher level of church authority, since my bishop, home teacher, and stake president had all, in one way or another, been unable to assist me. I knew though, that any letter sent to the Area Presidency or other General Authority would, as a matter of routine, be returned to my Stake President to deal with, and he had already chosen not to become involved with the issues. I therefore considered how I might actually be heard by the Area Presidency. It occurred to me that an open letter, published on the internet, and also posted in hard copy to the office of the Area Presidency, would bring to their attention my questions, which I knew were also the questions of many others. In choosing this method, I felt it would be in the LDS Church’s public interest to respond in some meaningful way, even if it was only in the form of instructions conveyed to me through my Stake President. I duly published my first Open Letter to the Europe Area Presidency on 28th August 2012.

https://journeyofloyaldissent.wordpress.com/2014/02/23/chris-ralphs-first-open-letter-to-the-europe-area-presidency-28th-august-2012/

[6] This was ignored, and so a few weeks later, on 4th October 2012, I gave them a second opportunity to respond, when I published my second Open Letter to the Europe Area Presidency.

https://journeyofloyaldissent.wordpress.com/2014/02/23/chris-ralphs-second-open-letter-to-the-europe-area-presidency-4th-october-2012/

[7] To my disappointment this too was ignored. My father, aged 89, felt this discourtesy was not befitting men who claimed to serve God, and so took it upon himself to write to the Area Presidency in an Open Letter of his own on 29th October 2012.

https://journeyofloyaldissent.wordpress.com/2014/02/23/ted-ralphs-open-letter-to-the-europe-area-presidency-29th-october-2012/

[8] When that was also ignored, it became clear that the policy was to avoid answering these serious questions. However, one last opportunity was extended to the Europe Area Presidency on 3rd December 2012, when twelve British members of the church, (including my father and my two daughters), wrote a further open letter urging them to answer my two earlier communications:

http://stevebloor.wordpress.com/2012/12/14/twelve-members-of-mormon-church-plead-for-honest-answers-to-two-open-letters/

[9] When this was also ignored it confirmed the opinion of many observers that not only could the Area Presidency not answer, but they were probably under specific instructions from higher up the hierarchy not to do so. The inference was that it was well understood at the highest levels of church authority that there were insurmountable problems with LDS truth claims, and that the policy was to disguise that fact from the tithe-paying membership at all costs. The twelve British signatories next published a Proclamation to The First Presidency & Quorum of The Twelve on 21st December 2012.

http://stevebloor.wordpress.com/2012/12/21/proclamation-to-the-first-presidency-quorum-of-the-twelve/

[10] I supported their initiative by adding a heartfelt letter of my own two days later, addressed to the same governing bodies of the LDS church.

https://journeyofloyaldissent.wordpress.com/2014/02/23/chris-ralphs-open-letter-to-the-first-presidency-quorum-of-twelve-23rd-december-2012/

Needless to say, no answers were forthcoming to any of these attempts to engage the LDS church leadership in a constructive, honest dialogue, and so the possibility of developing greater understanding and a working relationship between those who claimed to be Jesus Christ’s representatives, and those who incrementally had felt deceived and rejected, was dismissed out of hand by the former.

Every avenue of enquiry had been tried from the lowest to the highest authority, and all had been found to be lacking in ability and willingness to deal with the situation. Our experiences has not been in isolation. It is now apparent that this has been the experience of others also, when they have sought substantive answers to their reasonable questions from a church which had demanded so much from them as followers.

Avoiding the difficult questions has not solved anything. A policy which conveyed only contempt for truth seekers, inevitably also ensured a rising tide of dissent within the ranks. It is unsurprising that respect has all but evaporated, and alternative, less conciliatory approaches are now resulting; Tom Phillips’ private criminal action against Thomas Spencer Monson, (as sole owner of the LDS church corporation), which was initiated in London on 31st January 2014, should perhaps be viewed as just the first of many which will keep recurring until genuine openness, accountability, and inclusiveness are demonstrated within the LDS organisation.

~~~

POST SCRIPT, 3rd March 2015:

A further Open Letter was sent to the Europe Area Presidency. See

https://journeyofloyaldissent.wordpress.com/2015/03/03/a-plea-for-honesty-a-further-open-letter-to-the-europe-area-presidency/

 

 

 

 

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3 Responses to 2009-2014: An Odyssey Without Answers in a Changing Church

  1. SteveBloor says:

    Reblogged this on Steve Bloor's Blog and commented:
    Chris Ralph Co-Witness in the Tom Phillips fraud case against Thomas S Monson shares some history leading upto our involvement in the case.

    This includes our pleadings for answers with the Open Letters in 2012 and The Proclamation For Truth.

  2. Camille Biexei says:

    Thank you for sharing this. I cried. This story is too close to my own painful journey away from the Church, an institution I loved and served for decades. But, it was comforting to know that there are many others with similar experiences from their own painful journeys.

  3. Gale says:

    Thank you for your courage and open, thoughtful approach to this very serious problem of honesty and lack of communication by Church leaders. My experiences living in Utah in the U.S. well parallel your own. The church has become very able in its ability to find ways around truth in order to maintain its false image in support of belief.

    I wanted to add one point relative to Joseph Smith and polygamy, being, like you, one who doesn’t take issue with Joseph’s practice of polygamy (while although I don’t like it, I understand why he practiced it, that is, because he could). That being said, I cannot accept Joseph’s outright lying to the Church about it even while the first quorum of Seventy at the time wrote that anyone practicing polygamy would be excommunicated. Worse still, Joseph Smith lied about his polygamy to his wife Emma. We have a word for that in my house – we call it “adultery”. I find it hard to believe that God would not have “revealed” to Joseph that he needed to be honest and open relative to the practice to Emma and the Church. I suspect that because of the multitude of lies told by Joseph and Brigham Young during the period and significant level of deception, that leaders of the Church believe that it is all right for them to be deceptive as long as it promotes and preserves the Church.

    Ironically, this practice of organized lying for the Church as practiced by Joseph Smith, falls within the description of “secret combinations” that was touted as being so “evil” in the Book of Mormon.

    Best Wishes for Your Continued Well Being and Pursuit for Truth!

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