(A Bishop’s Wife’s Story)
As a Mormon for 38 years, I was fully committed and certain that I belonged to God’s only true church upon the earth. I was always very actively involved; I held leadership positions in my church as a youth, and was the only youth I knew of who was asked to teach Primary when I was 13 years old. Even then I took religion very seriously. As I got older, I attended seminary from grades 9 through 12. I always got A’s. When I was 18, I went to Brigham Young University, took all the required religion courses there, and graduated with my B.S. degree in Elementary Education after three years. I had taken a “Missionary Prep” class at BYU, and fully intended to go on a mission. Instead, I began to teach school in Idaho and met the man I would marry – the man who met all of my criteria – the most important being that he was a very active Mormon and had served a mission.
We began living the Mormon dream. We were both active in the church, we held many positions, paid a full 10% tithing, prayed as a family twice a day, individually twice each day, plus we prayed before every meal. Our home was clean, our children (we had four) were well cared for, all of our family and friends were Mormon, and we really didn’t associate with too many other people. As life went on, I became more and more exhausted from trying to be the perfect wife and the perfect mother. My husband thought I was both. It was up to me to meet everyone’s needs; and if I worked hard enough, I was sure that one day my needs would be met and I would be happy.
Something was wrong. I was trying to do everything my church taught me I needed to do to gain eternal life, so WHY wasn’t I happy? Why did I keep feeling that no matter how hard I tried, I could just never be perfect enough to make the Celestial Kingdom? What was wrong with me? My husband became the bishop of our ward. We now had a sort of prestige – yet I was miserable. Why didn’t I enjoy temple work? Why did I feel that all the genealogy I did was fruitless? Why did I feel I was working myself to death, but getting no closer to God? I remember praying one day that God would help me to find out who I really was because I didn’t know any more. I just knew that somehow I wasn’t the person God wanted me to be.
After taking off several years to raise my four children, I went back to teaching school. I had several little children from Christian homes. I was amazed that they would bring up the subject of God or the Bible. I thought only Mormon children were taught that well. One little boy in my class began to tug at my heart. He was the most wiggly, squirmy kid I had in both sessions of Kindergarten. But every Wednesday, he proudly wore his Awana’s vest. I began to find out just how committed my little Christian students’ families were to their religion. I thought that these were certainly good people; it was just too bad that they didn’t have the truth.
My little, squirmy student was being raised by a single father. I was amazed that a man would be committed to religion without the prodding of a wife, especially since he wasn’t a Mormon. This man always came to school once each week to eat lunch with his children We began to visit about his son, and gradually, over the next three years, our conversations turned to religion. I just couldn’t understand why he was so adamant about not ever joining the Mormon church.
I had watched this Christian man’s children for him from time to time, and one night, his littlest daughter got hurt and had to be taken to the emergency room. I stayed with the other four children at their house so that I could put them to bed. I noticed a beautiful Bible in the living room. As I picked it up, this same little wiggly boy told me that I couldn’t look at it; Mormons, he said, couldn’t read it. I put the children to bed, and I began to thumb through this Bible. There were lots of cross-referenced Scriptures dealing with Mormonism. When my Christian friend got home, I began to quiz him. In the conversation, I became increasingly disturbed, and finally pinned him to the wall with the question, “Where do you think Mormons will go when they die?” He was a little reluctant, but told me that they would go to Hell. I was shocked! I asked him, “You think I am going to Hell?” (In my mind I was thinking of how hard I had worked all of my life to do the right thing, to be perfect, to help my neighbors – especially the one who thought I was going to Hell!) He honestly told me that, yes, I would go to Hell. He tried to be very kind about it, but I was so angry that I nearly began to cry. I left feeling very confused and thinking that our friendship was probably over.
I have found that God has an interesting way of working with me. Those things my friend had told me kept nagging at me. I was certain he was wrong, and yet I felt compelled to know more. I rationalized this desire to know more by telling myself that by knowing more, I would be able to prove this man wrong, and convert him to Mormonism. I would then set him up with one of the several very wonderful single ladies I knew, he would fall in love with one of them and they and their children would live happily ever after in the Celestial Kingdom. He would eventually thank me when he became a God of his own world.
As I began to ask questions of my Christian friend, I became more and more disturbed with the answers. He knew far too much about Mormonism, and every time I tried to prove him wrong, I found out he was right. My husband became very uncomfortable with this situation and so I withdrew my friendship with this family for a time. I was even more miserable. I had too many questions that needed answered. Eventually, I couldn’t stand the “not knowing” and initiated more dialogue. My friend told me about a class that was starting up at his church. It taught the differences between orthodox Christianity and Mormonism. I wasn’t too interested – it scared me to think of walking into a different church. Yet, my Christian friend and his children kept encouraging me to go. I finally relented, just to get them to stop bugging me. This class was held on Sunday mornings, and since my church was on an afternoon schedule, I could do both. I rationalized being there, because surely I would set the pastor straight about Mormonism; he would come to see the truth, and in turn he would convert his entire congregation to Mormonism.
The longer I attended this class, the more troubled I became. I ordered books, studied late into the night, and spoke of my feelings with my husband my stake president. My husband didn’t have any answers for my questions, and told me that he wouldn’t study because he didn’t want to go through the Hell that I had been going through. My stake president told me that he didn’t have to study to find out the truth – he had faith. I was an emotional wreck. I would take long walks, pour out my heart to God, and just sob. What if Mormonism wasn’t God’s truth? What would I do? My husband was a Bishop! What would everyone say? I had to get away; away from the Mormons and away from the Christians. This was between God and myself – and I was determined that I would study and pray until God told me what to do.
By this time, my marriage was in serious trouble. We had problems other than religion, but the religion issue made things much worse. Our marriage counselor agreed with me that I needed some time away to decide which direction I would take with my life. I planned a five-day trip away. I settled on Stanley, Idaho. I made my motel reservations and began gathering study materials, my scriptures, etc. That’s when I found out that my Christian friend’s church was going on a retreat during the same five days, and that they were only going to be about 20 miles away. I nearly cancelled my plans! This same friend convinced me to attend one seminar class at the retreat. I decided that before I could even consider leaving Mormonism, I had to know if there was anything out there that was better. If not, why leave my comfort zone?
I was amazed at how well Christians knew their Bible. I was also amazed at how intellectual these seminars were. I became so intrigued that I attended nearly every session. In between these sessions and after these sessions, I put in long hours of study. I had never studied so hard in my life. I felt as if my life depended upon this study. There was just so much damning evidence piling up in front of me against the Mormon church – well documented, historical and theological evidence. I found out how accurate the Bible was – even according to Mormon scholars. The Dead Sea Scrolls have shown how accurate the Old Testament is, and there are over 24,000 extant manuscripts attesting to the fact that the New Testament is accurate as well. I found out that the Jesus of the Bible is VERY different than the Jesus of Mormonism.
I felt as if my entire world was falling apart. I began to experience demon oppression at night while I was alone in my motel room. The more I learned about Joseph Smith, the more I realized he couldn’t possibly have been a prophet of God, and yet, I kept trying to make the pieces fit on the side of Mormonism. It HAD to be right. I couldn’t possibly have been wrong for so many years! I kept searching, studying, praying, fasting and agonizing.
Toward the end of my stay in Stanley, I simply fell apart in my motel room one day. I went down on my knees before God and I cried and cried. I told Him that I knew the Mormon church was not His church. I knew that I had been worshiping a God that didn’t exist. I begged God to forgive me, and told Him that I accepted the true Jesus Christ and His sacrifice for me. I asked God to please come into my life, and that no matter what happened to me, I would renounce my former faith and become a true Christian. I asked only one thing of God; that He bring my children out of Mormonism.
I called my husband, who was getting ready for his five-day fishing trip, and told him of my decision. He was kind, yet very disturbed. A few days after I arrived home, my stake president came to my home. He asked me if I still believed Joseph Smith to be a prophet of God. I told him that I did not. He handed me a letter, announcing a church court to be held in my behalf that very night. I was able to postpone this court for one day, but I was a nervous wreck. The only people I knew who had been summoned before a high council were people who had committed serious sins. I didn’t think that I had.
In the high council room, there were at least 17 high priests present, including my husband. I was the only woman and sat on a chair lower than all the others. As I got up to answer the charge of “apostasy” that was brought against me, I felt a strength and a calmness that I never thought possible. I found out later that several Christians were praying for me at that very moment. I read a statement which included two of my reasons for leaving the Mormon church. I gave documented evidence to support my claims, and told them where they could find the documentation. I’ll probably never forget the range of emotions that swept over these men’s faces: one or two seemed very agitated at me; a few wouldn’t even look up at me; one seemed very interested and a bit shocked; the others showed absolutely no emotion. After I had given my evidence, I stated the following:
“I must admit I am confused about why I have been brought before a disciplinary council of this church. The letter I received states: ‘This council is being held in your behalf because of your conduct against the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, namely, apostasy. A disciplinary council seems to be the only way to help you repent, and to protect and safeguard the purity and goodness of the church.’
1st: My conduct against this church. I have not been immoral or dishonest in anything I have done. I have not openly opposed the church, nor have I gone to my friends and tried to persuade them to oppose church doctrine or church leadership.
2nd: This council is supposed to be the only way to help me repent. What would you have me repent of – searching for truth? All I have done is to study, to search, ponder and pray as I have always been taught to do by this church. If you say I am an apostate because I have done this, then in all fairness, you must warn every member of this stake that their memberships are in jeopardy if they read anything contrary to what this council feels is appropriate. But I do believe that is censorship, and not in line with the teachings of Christ.
3rd: This council feels they must protect and safeguard the purity and good name of the church. All I have done is to search for truth. 2 Tim. 2:15 “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” I didn’t think that truth needed to be protected; that it could stand on its own. Truth never falls. It is only a lie that needs to be protected and safeguarded.”
The council decided to remove my name from the church records because of apostasy. The letter stating their decision also told me that all privileges of membership were denied me, but that I could still pay my tithing through a family member in good standing. I was encouraged to repent and live the gospel standards to prepare myself for baptism in the future, and that I would need to seek forgiveness from my Heavenly Father through sincere repentance. The last sentence stated, “Joseph Smith truly is a prophet.”
Shortly after this council, my husband was released as a bishop. He told me that I had ruined his life, even though he had been wanting a release for at least a year. He told me that he would stay married to me if I would keep my mouth shut and not teach my four children anything I had learned about Mormonism or Christianity. I told him that I had to obey God, and God’s word commands us to share the good news with others. I would not be silent. He filed for divorce. Members of the Mormon community, including at least one high councilman, began spreading rumors that I had left the church because I was having an affair with a Christian man. Others said I had joined a cult. Many Mormons were very angry with me for quite some time. My family all thought I had gone crazy – including my children. I know I was thought of and still am by most, as a traitor.
I had taken off a year from teaching, and so was without a job, my husband was divorcing me, and the school year had already begun. I prayed and told God of my need for employment. I got a phone call from the principal at the school where I had worked before, telling me that class sizes were larger than expected and he asked me if I would take a second grade class. Praise God.
God has provided for me in every way since. Within one year from the time I left Mormonism (August 1998) every one of my four children had accepted the Jesus of the Bible as their Savior and became “born again” Christians. God has been so faithful to me! I continually ask myself why God would choose to pull me out of Mormonism when there are millions of others he could have pulled out. Maybe I’ll never know why. I do know that I love the Mormon people, and I will take every opportunity I get to share the truth about Jesus Christ with them.
Dorene Erickson Heiner
E-mail Address: firstname.lastname@example.org