Why I don’t go to church anymore…

Because of questions that a number of people have asked me, I’ve decided to set the record straight as to why I don’t go to church anymore. This is not going to be an easy read for my believing Mormon friends, but I hope it will be worthwhile and thought-provoking. Let me start by saying that most of what the LDS church does is wonderful. I especially love its emphasis on family and service. My local congregation is a group of wonderful, supportive, loving people. That said there are a few doctrines that the institutional church teaches that are discriminatory and harmful. As well there are uncomfortable episodes in the church’s history that are glossed over or misrepresented by the church.

That most in the church have never heard of Joseph Smith’s marriages to other men’s wives while they were still married to their first husbands is scandalous. Polygamy makes members of the LDS church uncomfortable enough, but if they knew that he married 9 other men’s wives that would give them pause to think (some married with and some without the other husband’s consent). I can’t imagine what it must have been like for Zina and Henry Jacobs when Joseph Smith asked Zina to marry him less than a year after they themselves were married.

Zina wrote that within months of her marriage to Henry, “[Joseph] sent word to me by my brother, saying ‘Tell Zina, I put it off and put it off till an angel with a drawn sword stood by me and told me if I did not establish that principle upon the earth I would lose my position and life‘”. Joseph further explained that, “the Lord had made it known to him she was to be his celestial wife.” Henry, was aware of this wedding and they continued to live in the same home. He believed that “whatever the Prophet did was right, without making the wisdom of God’s authorities bend to the reasoning of any man.” Shortly after Joseph Smith’s death in 1844, Zina married Brigham Young. In May of 1846, Henry was sent on a mission to England. In Henry’s absence, Zina began to live openly as Brigham’s wife and remained so throughout her life in Utah. Henry seemed to struggle with this arrangement and later wrote to Zina, “…the same affection is there…But I feel alone…I do not Blame Eny person…may the Lord our Father bless Brother Brigham…all is right according to the Law of the Celestial Kingdom of our God Joseph.” [reference]

I don’t know how church leaders and other members of the church who know about these marriages justify them in their minds. True, Joseph Smith a number of good things during his life, but not all the fruits he produced were sweet. Most of the Book of Mormon is inspiring, but the doctrine and Joseph Smith’s practice of plural marriage was as abhorrent when he was practicing it as it is to us today. To get a feel for what it must have been like for people in his day we need look no further than Warren Jeffs the FLDS prophet (from the summer of 2007) and how he and his church currently practice polygamy. I’m sure we feel at least as uncomfortable at the accounts of him pressuring young girls to marry older men as people in Joseph Smith’s day did about his match making.

Here are the LDS doctrines and practices that I can no longer support or justify:

  • The church’s separate but equal policy with regards to woman and the priesthood. That women cannot hold leadership positions such as Bishop is patently unfair no matter what faithful LDS women say. Ask any 8-year-old child, who is more important in the church, men or woman, and you’ll get a more objective and accurate answer. I put this doctrine in the same category as women’s suffrage and blacks and the priesthood. It will change, it is just a question of when.
  • The church’s discrimination against gay people and opposition to gay marriage. Most scientists today agree that gay people have not made a choice to be gay, but sexual orientation is most likely the result of a complex interaction of environmental, cognitive and biological factors. In other words this is the way god made them. Active members of the church who are gay are regularly exposed to a virtual hell on earth at church meetings when marriage and the law of chastity are discussed. Their god given sexual drive is described as evil, and they are told that to be exalted they must enter into a marriage with someone of the opposite sex. In many cases, this leads to severe depression. In some cases substance abuse is turned to as a way to escape the depression and unfortunately others turn to suicide as a way out. Just think of what a gay person must think when their bishop tells them that it is better off to be dead than to commit sexual sin. For an insightful look at this topic see this Sunstone article.
  • The church’s longstanding discrimination against black men and women (that ended in 1978). Withholding the priesthood from black men, and not allowing black woman to enter the temple, was just wrong, and are excellent examples of how the Old Testament can be used to support doctrines that make no sense in our modern world.
  • I don’t feel good about polygamy in general and particularly with Joseph Smith marrying nine other men’s wives (in addition to the twenty other single women he married). I am inclined to agree with William Law (editor of the Nauvoo Expositor), that if Joseph was a prophet, by the time he started practicing polygamy he was a fallen prophet. This is another example of how the Old Testament can be used to support archaic doctrines.
  • The teaching that the prophet of the church can never lead us astray (see above for polygamy as one example of this). I suspect this is where the “cult” accusation against the church comes from. I’d like to think that the prophet would not lead anyone astray, but to say never is unwise given the history of the church. To have an organization tell you that they cannot lead you astray, yet not let you question its teachings is a bad sign. In the short run it does however make it easier to lead an organization when no one challenges or questions your decisions. I believe that the leaders of the church are for the most part well meaning men who act based on their consciences and the needs of the organization.
  • The church’s aggressive proselytizing and focus on baptismal goals. This practice antagonizes other churches and can lead to depression in missionaries, when mission goals are not met. I think I personally would have had a much more fulfilling mission, and done much more good if the focus of my mission had been on service to the needy. I will encourage all my kids to take time off school to go do meaningful service in other parts of the world, but will actively discourage them from LDS missions for the above reasons.
  • The church not being accountable to members for how tithing monies are spent. As a matter of principle, the church should report its receipts and expenditures to the tithe paying members of the church. It should also report all salaries and stipends given to general authorities of the church. I would be surprised if there was anything greatly amiss, but we currently have no way of knowing.
  • The teaching that one can know that the LDS church is Gods’ one true church by saying that it is true (the “get a testimony by bearing it” method). Studies show that the more often you say something you don’t believe, the more you begin to believe that thing. Not a good foundation for a spiritual practice as I’ve found out. Having a testimony of the institutional church or “the church” places faith in a man made institution rather than with god and in higher spiritual things. Whether this has been encouraged maliciously or unintentionally I do not now. I do know that it does not feel right.
  • The church’s only true church doctrine. I think it is more important to god that I be a good, charitable person rather than to simply be a person who has been baptised and participated in priesthood ordinances.

Recently one LDS church leader quoted me the scripture “by their fruits shall ye know them” to me, hoping that I would think of all the good things the church does and want to come back into full fellowship. As I said there are a lot of good fruits produced by the church (service and its community for example), but there are also some rotten fruit on the vine, that no one in authority seems to doing anything about.  To me this is one of the strongest evidences that the LDS church is a man made organization that is led by well meaning, but not divinely led men. Most religions in the world teach many good things… That the LDS church teaches many good things is not remarkable in that context. Joseph Smith took a more enlightened position many of the things that were being debated by the Christian denominations of his day. For that we can be thankful.

I believe that if current members were more mindful of the effects of the church’s harmful doctrines, and became fully aware of the history of the church that they have not been taught in Sunday School, that they would demand changes.  The church as become rigid, hierarchical and bound to tradition, the very opposite of the radically inclusive, and open church that Joseph Smith founded.

I am at peace with the direction I am currently taking. I also have no regrets about the time and energy I’ve put into the church over the years. I still attend church meetings and activities periodically, and make sure that my children know where the pitfalls are in the church’s doctrine and practice for when they attend. To be honest to myself and to those closest to me, I feel I had no other choice. In my view the church is on the wrong side of a number of important moral issues, and to occupy a leadership position in the church with that knowledge, was hypocritical. If I felt that there was any chance to reform from within, that might have changed the course I’ve taken, but the church’s organizational and disciplinary structure is such that unless you are at a very high level in the leadership of the church, the opportunities to influence church policy are almost nil.

There is much good in the LDS church. It is a loving service-oriented organization. The church needs to build on the good and reject the discriminatory, hurtful and unjust doctrines. Members of the church need to be vocal about what they believe in their hearts and not just object in silence when harmful and uncharitable doctrines are taught. If there is a just god, then living a good, moral, service-oriented life should be all that is required of us. That is what I am trying to do, and it is what I teach my children.


  1. Hi Rich,

    I imagine the spiritual journey you’ve been on has been a difficult but “enlightening” one. (It was for me). I hope you and your family are well! Take care, Holly

  2. Thanks Holly. You’re right, this has not been an easy journey, but one I’ve felt compelled to make. That said it has been I have a lightness in my heart that it wonderful to feel. The family is well. We’ve had some excellent discussions recently on a wide range of moral and spiritual issues as you might imagine. Keep in touch and take care.


  3. Well I’m a little dissapointed. I was hoping there would be something new rather than all the old reasons people decide to quit. So are you one of those people who are quitting and moving on with there life or oare you one of those people who feel like it is their duty take as many with them as possible?

  4. The criticisms may be old, but for me they are deal breakers. Don’t get me wrong, the LDS church does many wonderful things, but discrimination against gays and women (and formerly blacks) are big enough issues for me that I felt like I needed to let my family and friends know where I stand. From the feedback I’ve received it sounds like many of them are uncomfortable with the position of the church, but are reluctant to speak out because of a desire not to “rock the boat.” Now that I’ve let people know where I’m at, I’m going to turn my attention to enjoying life. Cheers!

    • Polygamy itself is problem enough for testimonies. if it wasn’t , we would be talking about in sunday school . I have also decided to enjoy liife and focus on real life problems and not imaginary ones .

  5. I don’t think you go far enough. Many of us are born gay as you say. God made us this way so you are right it can’t be a sin. Some of use are born pedophiles or what society calls pedophile. Historically women got married between thirteen and 15 often to men twice their age!. Were they considered pedophiles? or statuary rapists? No of course not. We are born that way and alway have been. Its just society and religion that gives these false rules. Its good that your overcoming them. YOu are right God would never give rules that would contradict how he made us. The sooner we understand we are born this way the sooner people can be relieved of the guilt they feel when they are told they are “sinning”. How many teens does the church make feel guilty cuz they are having sex? IT is totally natural. God made us with a sex drive!! He would never tell us to deny it. Even mormons think celibacy is a sin. you say you are uncomfortable with polygamy but I think thats just some of those churchy thoughts still in your head. It is too hard and unrealistic for a man or a woman to be with just one partner all the time. God didn’t make us that way. Why would he make us be attracted to others people and then tell us that we can only be with one person regardless of gender or age.
    Anyway you are obviously on the right track but you are still falling short by stopping at gays. God made us this way and he wouldn’t put arbitrary rules there to stop us from being in a loving relationship with anyone and certainly he wouldn’t make us feel guilty about it.

  6. MCcue said”The teaching that one can know that the LDS church is Gods’ one true church by saying that it is true (the get a testimony by bearing it method).”

    I think the actual teaching of the church is to bear your testimony, in part; to strengthen it and strengthen other’s testimony. The main purpose is to witness of Jesus Christ. And the Holy ghost is to witness of the truth of that testimony. THe idea is that you have a testimony FIRST and NOT to say what others are saying or what you think should be said and then say it often enough that you believe it. That is not the process and you have been seriously led astray if that was your belief. In fact a few years ago the Church came out with a letter instructing parents to not help their children bare Testimonies from the pulpit and to only allow children who have a true desire to to do so and can do it of there own accord.
    Now I know you’ll be able to draw upon the last 150 years of Church history and find quote after quote of church leaders say “if you want to gain a testimony bear it.” Taken out of contest it sounds like brainwashing however it should be note that the advise is given to the searcher of spiritual knowledge. IT is also a leap of faith. The one seeking knowledge will study out the life of Jesus and may know everything Jesus did but that spiritual confirmation might not come until the Testimony is born and the Spirit witnesses that it is true. The advise is not given to just anyone. Individuals need to search and pray first before taking the step of vocally witnessing. BUt always it is with the understanding that the Holy Spirit will attend an honest testimony.
    I would also add that be continuously telling yourself anything it is possible to make yourself believe it. The church does not ask us to testify so that we are self deluded into believing but rather to testify so that the Holy Spirit will witness and confirm the Truth.

  7. Thank-you for your thoughtful response. You mention that the advice to “gain a testimony through bearing it” is only useful advice for someone sincerely seeking spiritual knowledge. I disagree with that for the simple reason that a person should at the very least always be truthful to his or her self. That doesn’t mean that they can’t exercise faith and change their behaviour (living the gospel, reading scriptures, praying, etc) in order to try to find out if something is true. But to say that something is “true” without that personal knowledge is deceptive, and I feel helps perpetuate falsehoods… How do you know who truely believes and who is “faking it until they make it”?

    An example of this that most people have heard of is the story of the Emperors’s new Cloths. No one except the child had the courage to speak the truth… everyone was embarrassed that they could not see the invisible cloths, so they lied to each other so that they could fit in with the group.  After letting family and friends know that I am no longer a believer, I was surprised at the number of people in my ward who have privatly told me that they go to church for social and family reasons only, and have not believed the religous dogma for some time.

  8. Hi
    Interesting read. My website is down right now. Be up again next week, so I left the address. LOL.
    I am a Christian. I dropped out of the church scene back in 1999, when I resigned my position as a pastor in a Vineyard church in Ontario, Canada.
    I became involved in the house church movement, and still am. I will never go back to man centred religion, which most of Evangelical and mainstream Christianity has become. A society focused on rules and duty, with little of no life, and no resemblance to the New Testament church you read about in the Book of Acts and the Epistles.
    No thanks. Church is people, people gathered in community around the person of Jesus and His Word. It is service to God and to others, in works of love and compassion, living out the Kingdom of God as a family. Church has NOTHING to do with buildlings, professional clergy, programs, my staring at the back of a person’s head, listening to sermons, and putting my two sheckels in the offering plate once a week! That is totally unscriptural. It took me until I was 40 to wake up. I was raised a minister/missionary’s son, and became an ordained minister myself. I finally broke the cycle of non-biblical dysfunctional, non-sensical, duty-bound, don’t question Christianity. What a relief!

  9. Sam,

    Thank-you for your post. I love your thoughts on the “church” not being the buildings or formal organization. I think that having a community of some kind can be helpful for many people to grow and serve each other, but when the needs of the community (or organization) start to take presidence over the needs of the indivuduals, then everyone involved should take a hard look at what they are doing and why they are doing it.

    Good luck on your journey. I look forward to checking out your website when it is back up and running.



  10. It takes a lot to be so in the open as you are, Rich. My hats off to you.

    We are kindred spirits in our journey out of the Morg and into rational thinking. My deal breaker was that JS was marrying (spiritually of course) other men’s wives… If you believe that was okay then you have to accept that Gordon B could knock on your door and take your wife today.

    May your journey continue with a brightened path.


  11. Rich:

    I enjoyed reading your blog. I too left the LDS Church not too long ago as a result of recognizing that all of my spiritual foundations were largely result of the imaginations of a man I wouldn’t trust my children to be with- even, Joseph Smith, Jr.

    As a youngster, I was taught to admire and emulate his life. I can hardly think that my parents and church leaders, had they known the real life and times of Joseph, would have ever encouraged me to be more like him.

    My best to you and yours on this journey through life.

  12. Rich, you were my best friend out in the mission and I still feel close to you even though we have not seen eachother in a long time. It has been such a comfort to read your blog! I feel so closely to what you wrote that I could have written it myself! Thank you! Roland Hosch

  13. Hi Rich, I am a little suprised that there aren’t bigger issues here. I had convinced myself for some time now that you had some incredible and groundbreaking reasons for leaving the church with your family, and I am sad to discover that these really are the same old reasons. I am dissappointed that the small and centuries old bumps on the road are the ones that made you decide to go bushwacking.

    I greatly admire your courage and the kindness you display to all who cross your path. I hope that I can follow your example of Christ-like charity and having a healthy and busy lifestyle. I admire both you and your father for your fights against lukemia, I can’t how disheartening that must have been. Your family are one big bundle of excitement and I love to visit.

    I know this probably won’t change anything, but I want to say it anyways. I am quite in favor of your idea that God wants us to be good and kind people, in fact I had a discussion with a man I personally respect for his great wisdom and faith about kindness being a simple but integral part of qualification for exaltation, and we came to the conclusion that it’s impossible to gain the one without the other. However by the laws set forth by God, throughout all time, it would still be impossible to enter his pressence without some kind of saving ordinance provided through the priesthood which has only ever been held by righteous men in a select group, or church. I don’t know if you still subscribe to anything the bible tells us or accept religion at all, but if you do and believe that God is the being he is portrayed to be within it’s pages or that of the book of Mormon, then you must believe that he has rules for letting people into his kingdom, and that baptism is one of these steps. without being a good person and striving to be be christlike obviously it is for nought, but a good person who rejects baptism…simply put won’t have the opportunity afforded them in the next life to avail themselves of further blessings. Once again, I don’t intend this to be inflamatory, disrespectful or hurtful, I’m simply puting forth the view, that I’m sure you’ve heard before and even taught as a missionary, that ordinances are the key to turning good lives into celestial lives. I admire the life you’re living now, I think it is a superb life from my spectator’s vantage point.

    I haven’t always has possesed a testimony of the divinity of Christ, or the power available to us through the priesthood, or the sacredness of temple ordinances, but through personal experiences and through sincere prayer asking for guidance and help in understanding the things of the Lord I Now have that testimony. I know that even though he was a “Rought Stone Rolling”, Joseph Smith was and is a prophet of God. I only ever say “I know.” when I am convinced of something, and have an assurance that it is so, otherwise I would never dare to say anything so brash. But I do know, and I wish I could be a better example of it. The most important thing that I know has to be that aside from doing many good things around the world, the church provides the saving ordinances both for ourselves and for our loved ones, with proper priesthood power. Rich I love you and wish you all the best with your endeavors. I don’t expect any response to this, and respectfully request none.

    • @anonymous: It is interesting that you say that problems with mormon doctrine and history I’ve raised aren’t “big issues”. The church’s separate but equal treatment of women alone would be enough for me not to want to raise my daughters there, but combine that with polygamy, polyandry (Joseph Smith marrying other men’s wives), it’s treatment of gay members, blacks and the priesthood and you have an number of “big issues” that you have to deal with one way or another. I’ve found that when most mormons learn about these “problems”, they put them on their metaphorical “book shelf”… questions to be answered, hopefully at some point in the future. My bookshelf got too heavy. When I looked closely at what I’d been hiding there over the years, it finally collapsed. The good news is that I’m living a more satisfying life now than I did as an active member of the church.

      If you and your family are happy in the church, I wish you the best. If your “book shelf” ever gets too heavy and you need someone to talk to, just let me know.

  14. […] friend didn’t know this, but as we were leaving the church in 2007, two members of our Bishopric (now called to the new stake presidency) met with my partner and I, […]

  15. Rich,

    First, I believe in agency. You’ve decided to leave the church with stated reasons. I respect your right of choice. Some of the people I love most in this world have left the church for a variety of reasons.

    As I’ve thought about this over the years, I concluded those who leave over the reasons you stated never acquired a testimony. I believe they lived on “borrowed light”.

    Why do I feel this way?

    I’m troubled by a few things in church history, some of them are on your list. But when I reflect on the sacred experiences I been given by the Lord there’s no contest. If I hadn’t been given these experiences then I might have left the church too.

    On my blog I’ve stated my reasons for staying. See “My Experience with the Savior”.

  16. Jared,

    You bring up an excellent point. I did have a hand full of spiritual experiences over the years that I interpreted as being divine confirmation that the LDS church was inspired of God. What I began to notice in my late 20’s and early 30’s is that occasionally I’d have those same “spiritual” feelings in very non religious settings like a sporting event, or most memorably while watching the movie the Bourne Identity. God giving me a testimony of the Bourne Identity?

    What I’ve learned since is that most people have these spiritual feelings to a greater or lesser extent (depending on the wiring of their brains), and that how they interpret those feelings depends almost exclusively on their upbringing. So when a member of the Catholic church has a spiritual experience while listening to some beautiful music during mass, they usually interpret that as confirmation that they are in God’s true church. When a follower of Buddha has a spiritual experience while meditating, they interpret that as confirmation that they are on the right path.

    The same spiritual feelings, experienced in the exact same setting, can be interpreted in wildly different ways depending on the beliefs of the individuals involved. That you have had spiritual experiences is not remarkable. That you interpret them as confirmation of the divine nature of the LDS church is predictable given your association with the church. The same thing is happening to people in other churches and faith traditions all over the world.

    I still occasionally have “spiritual” experiences (none of them church related at this point), but how I interpret them is much different that I did as an active member of the Mormon church.

  17. Rich,

    Thanks for responding. I think your point is well taken. I’ve know people who have made errors based on the idea of “feeling good” about a decision. Having said that, I need to add that for me it has been different. The Lord has answered some of my prayers by sending ministering angels. I didn’t see them, but I heard them speak. This kind of experience creates certainty.

    I’ve learned the Lord answers prayers in many ways. It’s not my purpose to go into more detail out of respect for your decision, but the Lord has made me a witness and I would be remiss if I didn’t make that clear.

  18. […] recently posted an interesting comment to my four year old blog post where I outlined my reasons for not attending the Mormon church anymore.  The commenter said he has been troubled by “a few things in church history”, and that if he […]

  19. Rich,
    I don’t think my dad will let me get out of the church, and i really want to.
    im 15 now but since i was 12 i hated it. The mormons say it’s a nice enviroment..the girls there are selfish/snobby/bullies. Overall, i don’t want to be mormon. I have a few friends that are gay and lesbian and it’s upsetting knowing that if they ever go to my church they most likely would be made fun of. i just want to get this off my shoulder! Hoping pretty soon!
    Thank you! 🙂

  20. Allie, I’m sorry to hear about the position you’re in, but am glad that you seem to be dealing well with things. Things really do get better as you get older, and are able to become less dependent on your parents. In the mean time I hope you’re able to find the support you need with your friends and online communities. Take Care!

  21. Richie I hear you and while I am still both feet in, I validate the frustration with the Church’s narrative and theology at various points. I have had to deconstruct and reconstruct everything and am still doing that. It may be true but it certainly is not true in the way they have framed it.

  22. Where did you go on your mission? I struggled with the same issues , I wouldn’t count the controversial book of abraham out and I would include a liitle bit of science and the quest for the historical jesus and the bad stuff that is promoted in the bible . I struggled with all those for two years and like two weeks ago I told my wife and missionaries that I won’t try to pursue to fight this intellectual battle anymore since it was time-consuming and wasn’t leading anywhere. I still attend to church with my family but nothing is the same. The correlated material sounds beautiful to the ear but knowing the complete story makes all the difference. Nothing will ever be the same. I will continue attending to church for an indefinite period of time and if a miracles happens such as archeological evidence being found or a real revelation being given , I would believe again. #Thomas

    • I went to Curitiba and Florianopolis Brazil on my mission back in 1988. I hope you find satisfaction where ever your path in life takes you Brother Campos.

  23. It’s hard to understand tone in online comments so know that I do not mean this in a hostile way. I think you should consider the fact that actually “most” members already know these “facts” as you state them but still believe the church is the most correct of any on earth. Only a very few who have been “enlightened” demand change.

  24. Would’n’t it be best if you stuck around to help change the church from the inside out? If everyone that disagrees with the church just leaves then how can we expect the church to change or to improve?

    • If the church had mechanisms in place that allowed for grass roots change I very well may have stayed, but as things were in 2007 (and I suspect still are today) I didn’t feel like there was a realistic chance for significant change in the short to medium run.

  25. In addition to keeping black men out of the priesthood, the priesthood ban also barred black men AND WOMEN from entering the temple, being endowed, and receiving sealing blessings. So many people miss this part of the ban’s effect, and our black sisters should be part of the narrative. Thanks for sharing your journey.lwm

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