the thinker

Lara Peterson

This web page is a letter that Lara Peterson wrote to her family when she decided to leave the LDS Church.

How do you start a letter like this? On one hand I am pretty sure this will devastate you and disappoint you. On the other hand this journey has brought me the most inner peace and has helped me be the happiest I've ever been in my entire life. The only downside for me is knowing that you will most likely be disappointed in me and that I'm breaking you're hearts. So I guess I'll just begin. Please read this entire letter so you understand my whole journey and my process.

As far back as I can remember there has been sadness in me. I'm sure mom remembers the countless times I would come crying to her when I was a little girl. I would tell you that I was sad but we could never figure out why. This happened until I was a teen. Once I got older I learned how to hide it. I always put a smile on but inside I was always sad.

The sadness came from knowing I was never good enough. No matter how nice I was, smart I was, or obedient I was; I always knew I wouldn't be good enough and always felt like God was disappointed in me. Whenever I made a mistake no matter how big or small I would beat myself up. I would never let it go.

At Church I would receive messages that told me I would never be good enough because we are all sinners. Then at the same time I was told to be perfect and strive for perfection even though I would never achieve it. So basically I was told to be perfect but no matter how hard I tried I would never accomplish that goal.

As I got older I did everything I was told was right and that would make me happy. I got married in the temple to a returned missionary. I had kaysen and I was a stay at home mom. I was very active in the church and fulfilled my callings and did all I could and then some. Still sadness lurked in me. I still had overwhelming feelings of sadness and inadequacy. I knew that no matter how hard I tried and what I did I would never be good enough. Church leaders and members criticized me for faults when I had done my literal best and sometimes even more that I could. I began having breakdowns. I would make myself physically sick and be paralyzed by fear and anxiety of not doing everything exactly right and disappointing those around me and God. I kept getting this message at church of there is always more you can do and you can always be better. I felt like I was giving it my all but that wasn't enough and I couldn't give any more but I was being told I had to. So you can see how upsetting this mindset can be.

While all of this was going on I would hide my emotions from everyone except John. I thought I did a pretty good job but who knows. John was the only one who ever saw my pain and even he didn't see the darkest parts that I hid from him. I constantly wished that I could just die. I couldn't live this hell anymore. It was just too hard. If I was living my life the way I was told to so I could avoid going to “Hell”, I was already there so why should I go on living? I want to make it clear that I never would have taken my own life because I could have never done that too my kids (at the time we only had Kaysen). I still wished for death outside of my control so Kaysen would never think that it was his fault or that I didn't want him or love him.

Finally John convinced me to set up an appointment with a doctor. In fact he had to set it up for me and drive me there because I was too afraid to do so. After I saw doctor he put me on an anti-depressant. It helped some in that I knew my feelings were irrational but I still had them. I didn't have as frequent of breakdowns but I still had them.

During our long struggle with infertility well meaning church members would suggest to us that the reason we couldn't get pregnant was either because it wasn't the Lords time or that we hadn't asked worthily. This really upset me and makes me angry now when I look back. How can someone suggest that my body's physical limitations were a result of a loving God? Why would God make it so I couldn't have a baby or what was I doing wrong that was making me unworthy to have a child at this point? I know it was my body's biology and not God's fault for those struggles. It just really hurt that people would suggest those things. I know people were saying those things in comfort but it did the exact opposite.

After Skylar was finally born I suffered severe post-partum depression. We tried new medications and after about 18 months I finally got out of despair again.

I have always been a very empathetic person. I feel like God has blessed me with a gift to really understand and see where people are coming from. I have always had a few things in the church that just didn't sit well with me. I could never find answers for them and was always just told to put it away on a shelf and that it was just one of life's mysteries. A few of my life long questions were:

  1. Why did Blacks not get the priesthood for so long?
  2. Whys is there homosexuality if it is so wrong?
  3. Why can't women be equals and why if we are so good can't we have the priesthood if we desire it?
  4. Why was polygamy practiced then condemned and how come it is referred to as immoral today but we still expect it and plan for it in the eternities?

Issue 1- Why didn't Blacks get the priesthood for so long

I was always told that God reveals things in his own time and that he hadn't revealed until the 70's that Blacks could have the priesthood. I thought that if God was always constant and never changing why would he punish or exclude them for so long? As I got older I found out that Joseph Smith did indeed give two black men the priesthood and was intent on giving any worthy male the priesthood until his death. Once Brigham Young took over blacks were no longer allowed this right. Why would a never changing God suddenly change his stance? How come in the 70's God decided to change his stance again by allowing blacks to have the priesthood just as the federal government was threatening to take away the LDS churches tax exempt status unless they gave equal rights to all races? To me this didn't seem to be the ways of God but rather the ways of men. As an LDS member you hear two sayings, “God will never let his prophet lead you astray” and “The prophets are just men and can make mistakes.” Those two statements contradict each other. They cannot both be true at the same time. So how does it work?

Issue 2- Homosexuality is a sin

Growing up I learned that homosexuality is immoral. I was told that people who have Same Sex Attraction (SSA) got that way because they first started out looking at Porn. Eventually porn wasn't enough so they started acting it out until that wasn't enough to fill their desires. They then began looking at gay porn and then acting it out to fulfill their desires. I was also taught that the next step after that was looking at child porn and then molesting children. This all sounds absurd now but this is what I was taught at church.

As a teen the former teachings were abandoned and a new church lesson about homosexuality was introduced. SSA was still a sin and a choice but some people might be more prone to those feelings because that is their trial in this life. Just as someone might be more prone to a drug addiction. It was still a choice to go down that path of homosexuality and that path was a wrong and immoral one. To me it didn't seem fair that one man's trail might be having a hard time donating 10% to the church while anothers was having SSA. How were those equal and fair? Why would a loving God give you such a hard trial? It's said that he doesn't give us more than we can handle but there are countless stories of LDS and other religious teens and young adults who had SSA and eventually took their own lives because the stigma and feelings of being so bad were too great. Clearly these wonderful children of God had more than they could handle.

As I went to college and read, learned, made more friends, acquaintances, and had more life experiences my understanding of the world changed. I don't believe God wants his children to suffer. If he did then why would he offer Christ to atone for our sins and bare our sorrows? Same sex attraction isn't a choice. It is something you are born with just like I was born being attracted to the opposite sex. If God made each and every one of us it stands to reason that he made us how he wanted us. He gave us our thoughts, personalities, desires, and wants. He wants us to be happy. If he made you with SSA you would never feel truly happy without love and a partner and family to share life with. So what is wrong with wanting to love someone and committing to them regardless of gender? If someone came to me and told me that my love for John was wrong based upon their beliefs and that I could never be with him, I would never feel complete.

Recently the church has changed its stance once again on SSA. They now say that people are indeed born with SSA and having those feeling are not sinful or wrong. It is not a choice. They even say that you can be openly gay and be a full and acting member of the church so long as you do not act upon those feelings. I have a few issues with this. One is that the Mormon never changing God has once again changed his stance of SSA. Second, how can something you're born with and have no choice in and that isn't inherently evil be wrong for you to act upon? How can your natural instinct be bad? People say that SSA isn't natural and that is why it is so bad. Well if it is unnatural then how come the LDS church recognizes it as something you're born with? Isn't the essence of natural mean what we come into this world with? Also there are several animals in nature that have homosexuality existing in their species. It exists in nature. According to Brue Bagemihl's 1999 book “Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Nature Diversity” homosexual behavior has been observed I about 1500 species! And this is not just found in one man's research. There are countless researches and examples out there. You might say “well they are animals and being able to control our natural instincts is what sets us apart from them.” Well even if you try to use that argument you have to admit that homosexuality is indeed a natural instinct for some.

I'm not trying to change anyone's opinion because we are all entitled to it but what I am trying to do is help you understand how I came to my opinions and beliefs. I wonder if in the future the LDS church will again change its stance on SSA. I don't say this in a sarcastic sense. I honestly wonder. Doctrine has changed in the past when social upheaval has been great enough. Some may say that it is a coincident but I doubt that. When the government threatened to deny Utah statehood and when many people were speaking out against polygamy there was a revelation that polygamy was to no longer be practiced. Statehood was then granted and the majority of the members were satisfied. When the church was threatened with loosing tax exemption status and a majority of members were pro equal rights suddenly a revelation was received just in the nick of time that Black's could now have the priesthood. To me it seems off that these doctrines which previous prophets said would never change because God was never changing eventually changed. Regardless of whether you think it was social, financial, political, or spiritual reasons behind the change, it changed.

To me it seems like the Mormon version of God I was given changes along and shortly after the status quo and social movements. Years ago the conservative religious groups said that interracial marriage was wrong. They said that equal rights for women were wrong, and that blacks were not allowed to have equal rights because they were not a smart or as human as a white man. The people of those times who spoke against the conservative social norms of the times were often looked at as liberal, evil, bad, or crazy. Now as time has passed and social movements come about the conservative groups of those historical times are looked at as awful, evil, or intolerant. Many people today think they could never have been that hurtful or close minded. We look at those who of the historical age who demanded and fought for change and equality as people of God with good hearts and who were brave. We all like to think we would have been numbered among the brave who sought change! The equality battle of our age is marriage equality and acceptance of SSA. If history repeats itself then I have yet to see a battle for equality end where the people who fight against it have been right. Predictions of the world becoming evil and people marrying animals hasn't happened because inter-race marriages were accepted. I highly doubt that the world will now end because two people, who love each other, are good people, want to marry each other and have a family, and just happen to be the same sex.

If God is love, and love is accepting everyone for who they are, and who you are is who God made you to be, then why can't we love and accept each other? In the church I never could understand how many of my close friends who were good people could be considered bad or evil just because they has a same sex partner that they loved. One of my best friends is lesbian. I attended her commitment ceremony and her reception. She is extremely religious in her faith and has a great relationship with God. She is a loving and caring person but just because of her sexual orientation many classify her as a sinner. These same people who judge her may check off their lists of attending church meetings and following the outward noticeable rules but they don't care for their fellow men. Some of them cheat in business, never connect with spouses or children, and spend more time making sure they look good outwardly to the community instead of following Jesus' message of love. Obviously this is a big issue to me because I wrote so much about it.

Issue 3- Women and the Priesthood

I had never really wanted the priesthood and really don't care to have it now. What I do care about is the treatment of women. In the LDS church we're told that a man's divine role is to have the priesthood and take care of his family. A women's divine role is to listen to her husband's direction and have children. I take the meaning of a divine role as something we cannot change. When women have asked in the past why they can't have the priesthood they have been told that they are so good they don't need it. Wouldn't women who are so good then theoretically be better at using it and interpreting God's will and running the church than men? If you use that logic of women not needing it because they're better in nature than men, then yes they would do a better job. Now I don't think women are better than men or that men are better than women. What I see as the issue is that the priesthood can be used as a tool to get revelation and revelation is used to direct and control the church and its members. How come women are not allowed a real say in the direction of a church where they make up half of its members? Sure they are given roles to play over women's organizations and children's organizations but ultimately those women have to answer to men above them.

People say that God hasn't revealed it yet. Well how come women are promised that one day they can become priestesses? If it isn't a women's divine role to have the priesthood then why would we be promised that one day we can have it and be a priestess? Divine roles aren't supposed to change right? Like I said before I don't really care to have it myself but I don't think its God's way or that it is right to deny those worthy women who desire to have it. It doesn't make sense.

Issue 4- Polygamy

I've talked about polygamy already some in this letter but here is my basic problem with it. How come it was deemed ok and right by God in the early history of the church? Then later prophets said it was not ok even going as far as to say it is wicked and wrong. Yet we still allow men to be sealed to more than one woman and it is taught that there will be polygamy in the eternities. Those who practiced it in the early church have never been exposed for committing something that was said to be evil and wrong by modern day prophets. How can God change his stance so swiftly on something so big? Also if it is wrong at one point in time how can it be right in another? How come if we now say that something is wrong to do on earth how can it be right to do in the eternities? No unclean thing can enter into God's realm. I would think that something that is a sin on earth would be a sin, wrong, or unclean in the afterlife.

So having lived with these questions on my minds shelf and also feeling like I was never good enough I decided to confront my thoughts and feelings. I knew that I had never agreed with the church on these doctrines. I also searched and could never find a gospel answer that could bring me peace.

I noticed that being at church made me sad and gave me increased feelings of being inadequate and being bad. I felt judged by many people in the church for anything and everything I would do. I was constantly given lessons and messages of all the things I do wrong, all the things I'm not doing but should be, and all the things others do wrong. I felt like a hypocrite being told to love others and not judge them but here is what they are doing wrong and that luckily you are better than them because you don't do those things wrong but you still do a lot of wrong things. It was just a never ending cycle of hurt and despair and confusion for me.

If God is love how come I never felt that love and especially never felt it at his church? How come I felt worse at church and I hadn't even done anything wrong and not even anything wrong by the LDS standards. How come if I wasn't doing anything wrong I was still being told I was so bad?

My whole life I was told the LDS church was true. It was given to me as solid and concrete. There was a version of church history that was taught to me and that was that. If someone is told from birth that this is the way it is and this is truth then why would they question it? The world was once flat. It was known to be flat. People were deemed heretics to suggest that it wasn't flat. It was a fact that the world was flat, until it wasn't. We know that the earth is indeed round and not flat. It is fact. It is truth. But the world was always round. The truth was always there and it never changed but because people were told since birth the world was flat they took that as fact and truth.

I think that's what it is like for anyone who grows up in a certain religion or a certain way. You are given the “truth”. You believe that truth because it is what and all you are given. Why would you not believe it? As you grow older you have more opportunities to learn and see life. You hear about other truths and facts that may contradict your own. The LDS kids believe they have the correct truth as do the Muslim and Jewish children. But as we know truth never changes. It is always the same no matter what “facts” or “feelings” you have. You may get different “facts” based upon the knowledge you have that change your individual truth, but the truth is always constant. It is us who change, learn, and grow. God is truth and God is constant. He is never changing. Every religion out there has changed over the course of its existence including the LDS one. They change according to the knowledge they gain from science, experience, and social changes.

If you never seek true knowledge you will never know the truth. I always took what people told me as true in the church. I did what I was told and took everything I was given as fact and truth. So I based my testimony and life on those given truths. As I grew and learned and experienced life I changed my truth. I had feelings about things but I found my feelings change and feelings can sometimes betray you.

With all this on my plate I battled every week to go to church. I hated being there and would cry when I got home because I felt awful but if I didn't go I would feel equally awful because I wasn't doing what I was told I should and people would judge how good of a Mormon I was based upon my church attendance. This lasted for several years. I did what I was supposed to but never felt at peace and constantly battled crippling depression and anxiety, regardless of medication which just seemed to keep me from sinking into complete despair.

I finally decided to really find answers for my issues of sadness, depression, anxiety, and my questions about certain doctrines of the church that I didn't agree with. In seeing the truth I found that the church history isn't what I was told it was growing up. There isn't a certain exact way it came about. There are several faith building stories told in the church that simply weren't true. And I found this out using church sources and church approved material. If you seek the truth you will find it. There are several things I found that were actually different than what I was told my whole life. Here is a summary of the church history things I found that the church leaders have admitted to but it isn't talked about. There are several conflicting versions of the First Vision by Joseph Smith himself. The version the church decided to go with wasn't decided upon until the 1840's!

Joseph Smith had several plural wives. He was practicing polygamy behind Emma's back. Also in addition he was practicing polyandry which was marrying other men's wives while they were still alive and married. He did this in secret. Critics argue this did not happen but in the genealogical records of the LDS church these women are sealed to him as his wives.

The Book of Mormon has several issues. It resembles the names of towns and geographical locations near Smith's home. Several of the animals in the Book of Mormon's America did not exist on the continent at the time it is supposed to take place. Joseph also claimed that the Lamanites are the ancestors of the Native Americans. This was proven to be incorrect by DNA testing, so the church changed its stance to be that of the Lamanites are some of the ancestors of Native Americans. The Book of Mormon as billed is a perfect book. Then how come several changes have been made and they're not just grammatical as sometimes argued. In the first version of the book The God Head was said to be a trilogy of three in one God, which is what Joseph Smith believed at the time; but in later versions of the book, the nature of The God Head was changed to be that of three distinct persons. That is a huge doctrine change for a book that is said to be “the most perfect.”!

These are just some of the huge differences I found from what I had been told. So I found facts that contradicted what I had been told was true. I've heard the arguments of “well, that is just one opinion” or “you never really know what happened back then.” That is just not true! The 1800's wasn't that long ago in history. There were records and accounts kept. There are several accounts and records that all support these ideas and say the same things and many of them are the churches own records. If we know how life existed in ancient Egypt from records kept 600+B.C. we certainly can get a great sense for what really happened in the early history of the church. The truth is that we do know and it goes against the approved narrative of the modern day church it is hushed. With the internet and technology these stories and different accounts are made for easy access. The Church has agreed that these accounts are real as many of them come from their own records but unless you search for knowledge you will never know them. You will only hear the approved version of accounts even though the church quietly admits that the way it is taught isn't exactly how it happened.

All this knowledge changed my understanding. I suddenly had different proven facts that told me what I believed and was told my whole life wasn't accurate. Suddenly I was given information that proved my world wasn't flat!

So I took this information of facts with my beliefs on current church doctrine. I combined them with my life experiences and personal relationship with God. I examined. I prayed. I studied. I came to the conclusion that the LDS Church as I knew it and was given was not true. It was not God's one and only true church and that it doesn't answer my questions.

Having the knowledge and ideas that Mormonism wasn't true was in a way crushing. On one hand I was devastated. I had lived my life and given all in my life to live according to what I was taught was correct. Well I had just found out that a lot of what I was told wasn't true. It was given to me in a way to sway my opinion to a certain bias. Why couldn't the church have given me the real facts and then let me decide for myself? Instead I was basically lied to knowingly by the organization (not necessarily immediate leaders and family who didn't have the facts).

So with the conclusion that the gospel wasn't what it said to be when it started out I compared it to what it is today. Sure a lot of people love it and it makes them better people. But an equal number it devastates them and destroys them. If the church wasn't improving me but was making me depressed, anxious, and ultimately unhappy why would God do that to me. Why would a loving parent put me through that? The answer is he wouldn't.

I prayed to him in all honesty and humility with a sincere desire to know. I asked God if the LDS Church was true. I then asked him if it wasn't true. I asked if it was ok to leave and not be a part of it. I asked him if he loved me still and that if I was ok with him. Once I laid it all out to God I knew that I was ok. I knew it doesn't matter what set of religious beliefs you cling to. God is Love. He loves us. He made every single one of us exactly how we are. He made me exactly how I am doubts and all. He gave me my brain and emotions. He knows how I feel. God wants us to be happy. He wants us to love and accept each other. He wants compassion. There is no one true religion in my book. There are so many types of people and God made them all. To me the purpose of this life is to become better and be your best self. We should do all out of love and not fear or obligation. I think organized religion can be great. Different religions can provide a great atmosphere for some. It helps them to become better and gives them direction in their lives. To others it can have the opposite effect. To me the LDS Church didn't work. It did nothing to help me. It told me I was bad and would never be good enough no matter what I did. It told me that some people aren't equal or good enough. It kept me from being happy.

After I talked with God and let him know that I didn't believe the LDS Church was true I felt the biggest weight lift from my shoulders. I felt his love all around me for the first time ever. I felt true happiness and peace. I felt a greater love for all people. I wasn't so upset and I could express my love more openly to my children, John, and even in people I met. I no longer viewed people as LDS or not. I viewed them for who they are as an individual and how much God loves them.

I am happy to say that I have not had any break downs since I decided to leave the church. I am happy and I feel at peace. I know that what I am is enough. I still want to be a good person but I now know that God loves me regardless of religious choice. He will judge me on how I loved and treated my fellow man and not how many times I went to church or if I went to the temple enough.

John and I have been on this journey together. Although we may have arrived at our conclusions differently we have the same conclusion. We do not believe in the LDS church.

I want you to know that we didn't get to this point because we were lazy, that we sinned, or that we want to sin. We got here by prayer, study, reflection, and time. We love each other and our children very much. We will continue to be a family and our marriage is stronger than ever. I believe families are eternal but I don't believe those eternal families are dependent upon LDS doctrine.

I feel like the world has opened up to me. My life is finally mine to live. I actually believe I can have it all and achieve all I want to. This is a feeling I never has in the church, ever! As for my spiritual beliefs you may be wondering. Well they are ever developing. I have a great relationship with God and I feel his love more than ever. I believe that Jesus Christ was real and died for our sins. I believe we use his atonement to make up for all of our mistakes. We try and do our best with what God has given us. I believe in Love. I think that is the real test of this world and the eternal truth. I try to act on love and make my own choices on Love of God and my fellow man. I plan on being the best me I can be and I now know that even if I'm not, it's ok.

I'm sure that you will be sad when you read this letter. Having known the LDS religion, I'm sure you think I'm giving up the ways of the one true church. That possibly I am giving up my chance at being with you and all my family for eternity. I can see why this would be sad and devastating and I'm sorry you may feel like that and that I have caused those sorrows. To me though, I don't believe it's true. I believe that it doesn't matter what religion you are or what covenants you make or rules you obey in this life. All that matters is knowing God and knowing his love and trying to live your life through love.

I've thought about what many Mormons have said. “What if a man lives his life according to his religion. He may or may not have heard about the gospel. When he meets his maker, God will say, ‘you lived a good life but I am sorry but the Mormon Church was correct and you didn't live it'. What will you do then?”

But what if you lived your life as best you could as a Mormon and then you died and met God. He then told you that “although you lived a great life as a Mormon, that wasn't the correct religion.” All Mormons I've talked to said that they would know that God would still accept them because they lived a good life and did their best regardless of whether it was true or not.

How come that analogy is ok for Mormons but no one else?

As a parent we love our kids and would do anything for them. Our love is unconditional whether they disappoint us or not. I would never banish my children or keep them from the greatest happiness they could have. Sure we teach them lessons about how to be better and at times discipline them to teach them. But in the end we give them all the happiness we have. God's love is perfect and so much greater than ours. He wants the best for us and I believe is unconditionally loving and accepting of us. He may teach us lessons for our own good but he would never deny us happiness or being with him.

I know you may have questions and I'm open to talking and answering questions but please respect me and my beliefs as you want me to respect you and yours. I know all the LDS arguments and I've already been condemned to hell by countless do-Gooding members who want to convert me and bring me back into the fold.

Don't be sad for me. I am truly happy in all aspects of my life and it is going great. Don't call me to repentance. I haven't sinned or done anything wrong. And please don't assume I'm just inactive because I'm lazy. That is not the case and is very rude and ignorant because I have put years of thought, study, and prayer into my decisions.

I love you all and continue to want to have great relationships with out judgment or feeling of wanting to save me. Also please read this whole letter since it was written with great thought so you can know my story and exactly where I'm coming from.