Friday, October 19, 2007

Up Close and Personal; The Cr@ig P@xton Story

Having been born in the covenant, I was taught the gospel from my youth. I never had any reason to question or doubt what my parents, seminary teachers or church leaders taught me. I accepted their teachings and testimonies as fact. If I ever had doubts I don’t remember them.

My worldview, filtered through Mormonism, was secure, strong and confident, bordering on the arrogance, of KNOWING that I belonged to the ONLY true church on the face of the earth. I was right and the rest of the world was was so black and white to me. An easy and clear choice. The church is true, nothing else matters.

I couldn’t understand how the rest of the world couldn’t see the truth. It was so plain and simple. I knew that if given the chance to have the truths of the gospel explained to them, anyone would readily accept it. I was one of Saturdays Warriors...preparing the world for the second coming of Jesus Christ in these latter days. Little did I know then, that I had been “set up” by the church and my blind faith in it...for a very rude awakening...that would change my world and shake my very core.

From my youth, I prepared to go on a mission. I loved listening to the faith building stories of the returning missionaries as they reported the wonderful experiences from their missions. I would fantasize about the day that I too could serve a mission for the Lord. I knew in my heart that I too would be a great servant for the Lord and would be a valuable tool in His hands to bring many souls to the knowledge of His true church.

When I turned 18, I decided, with only a year to go that I needed to intensify my study of the gospel so that I would be fully prepared for my mission. I immersed myself in the study of the scriptures, particularly the Book of Mormon. Up until this time in my life I had never read the Book of Mormon from cover to cover. My initial impressions were less than impressed. The characters seemed shallow and almost cartoonish in their behavior. The Book of Mormon lacked depth, it felt fake. But leaning on the faith of those I trusted, I accepted that the Book of Mormon was true. I didn’t allow these first impressions to affect my testimony. Certainly, the fault was in me not the Book of Mormon.

The day I received my mission call was one of the most exciting days of my life. I had prepared for this moment all my life and now it was here. Although I was willing to go wherever the Lord called me, I secretly hoped that I would be called to Australia. It held so many pluses. A distant, exotic, English speaking satisfied every mission wish I ever had. I was thrilled when I read that the Lord had in fact called me to the country of my secret desire.

I took to missionary work like a duck does to water. Through hard work and strict adherence to mission rules I advanced quickly up the ranks of mission leadership. Within a very short time I was serving as a Zone Leader. I guess you could call me a straight arrow. I loved mission work. The years of preparation and an unquestioning devotion were really paying off. I loved teaching the gospel, and although most of the Australians I came in contact with were not interested to listening to my message, the occasional person that would listen made the work worthwhile. It was during such a situation that I came in direct contact with information that was about to change everything I had ever believed about the church.

During a street meeting my companion and I met a very nice Seventh Day Adventists couple that expressed a sincere interest in hearing our message. We looked forward to being able to share the TRUE gospel with them. During the first discussion they showed promise and we looked forward to a future baptism. Then following a dinner date, which had included some interesting meatless dishes done with soy beans, we retired to the living room for another gospel discussion. Our investigator’s mood seemed a bit different this night, on further inquiry, they inform my companion and me that they had discovered some material at the local library that had caused them to doubt some of the information we had taught them. They then presented us with a book entitled “Mormonism: Shadow or Reality?” by Jerald and Sandra Tanner. I assured our investigators that it was nothing to be concerned with. I promised them that I would review its contents and get back with them. Nothing in my years of mission preparation had prepared me for this book and the information that it contained. I cannot begin to describe the massive cognitive dissonance that I experienced as I browsed through this book. My world had been completely knocked off its foundation and I was ill equipped to fix it.

Retuning to my apartment, I read the material in the book. My head swimming as I read for the first time in my life the many changes in the Book of Mormon, the failure of early leaders of the church to live the word of wisdom, promises of missionaries teaching the gospel to men on the moon, changes and additions to the Doctrine and Covenants and on and on and on. I was drowning; I was going down for the third time. I remember being in complete depression, my world had changed in the blink of an eye, the seeds of doubt had been planted, but the fruit would take years to harvest. I had so many questions and no I did what I had been taught to do...I turned to the Lord for help. If anyone needed help I did, but I wasn’t willing to take any witness as an answer I wanted a specific sign. I told God what was required and said that if He didn’t deliver I was headed home, period.

I placed the “Anti” Mormon book on my bed and retired to another room for the most heartfelt and sincere prayer of my life. I told God in no uncertain terms that I had placed the book on my bed...and that if the things that I discovered in the book were false, then he had to move the book across the room and place it on my companion’s bed. Anything less would be confirmation that the book was true and Mormonism was false. Upon returning to my bedroom, I was relieved to find the Tanner book sitting on my companion’s bed just as I had requested. My prayers had been answered; my personal miracle had taken place. In my mind God himself had proven the book false; I had survived this crisis to my faith. I dismissed the Tanners as liars and frauds...God had given me a personal sign.

In reality my comp had merely picked up the book when I was in the other room praying...he sat on his own bed to browse through the book and then set the book down on his own bed where he had been sitting, unaware of my plea or request for a sign.

With this crisis conquered, I redoubled my dedication to the church working harder than ever...ultimately ascending to serve as Assistant to the President. The church was true.

Like many members of the church first exposed to the truth behind church history, I had to build a defensive wall around this knowledge and file it away in a deep part of my mind. I successfully did this for nearly 10 years, ignoring or denying the facts. Enter Mark Hoffman...

In the fall of 1985 my wife and I were on a visit to Nauvoo when we first heard the news from Salt Lake of the bombings that took the life of Steve Christensen (who had served in my mission) and Kathy Sheets. These bombings eventually led to Mark Hoffman. For months I had been following with interest the documents that Mark Hoffman was discovering and selling to the church. The discovery of these bits and pieces of church history began to undermine the protective wall I had built around my doubts. It caused me great pain when I first heard of a Salamander turning into the Angel Moroni. Once again I was forced to face my fears regarding the church. At the time I was deeply entrenched in my ward as the Elder Quorum President.... but these new confirmations of the church’s secret past continued to haunt me. It was those bombings that saved my faith once more. Discovery and disclosure of the Hoffman forgeries gave me newfound hope that I could once again hide my doubts behind my protective walls. I could once again suspend my doubts.

In the years since 1985, I ascended once again the ladder of Mormon leadership. I have served as a Elders Quorum President, Councilor in a Bishopric, served on the High Council and as Young Men’s President. But in 2002, the planets aligned, the conditions became perfect and the seeds that were planted so many years ago while on my mission bore their first fruit. I was forced to face my greatest fears. I turned to the church for help with a personal problem, naively expecting that I would receive it, but instead was excommunicated. I might add, for the curious, that I never broke my temple covenants. But the reality was that I had been cast off from a church I had dearly loved and had devoted my life to. The process was excruciatingly painful and truly beyond my ability to set in words. But on the bright side, being unencumbered by membership in the church, the binds on my mind were set loose. It was the first time in my life that I actually felt free to honestly investigate the church, confront my doubts and find out for myself if it was truly all it claimed to be.

I became a voracious reader of Mormon history, devouring books by Quinn, Roberts, Larsen, and others. The discovery of the truth was my only mission statement irrespective of where that truth might lead me. I had finally crossed the line into the unofficial secrets of Mormon history. I experienced one epiphany after another, with each succeeding discovery and in the process I learned something else I had not known about myself to that point.... I loved the freedom of free open learning. My mind was expanding with new ideas that I hadn’t allowed myself to entertain in the past as a member of the church. I realized that I was unafraid to face the realities of truth, of the questions and realities of “Life and Death” without them first being processed through the Mormon filter.

I do however continue to experience periods of great pain with my former faith. It hurts me that the church, whom I placed so much trust in; which preaches moral standards and teaches an honest pursuit of truth doesn’t practice what it preaches.

It hurts that the church continues to whitewash and doctor its history even today.

It hurts that those leaders whom millions of faithful church members regard as prophets, seers and revelators and look to as a standard of truth are in fact the ones responsible for keeping the truth from these same members through the practice of promoting a “Faithful History”.

It hurts accepting the realization that those telling the truth about the church were the very ones that the church had accused of doing all the lying.

But most hurtful and painful of all is the reality that the church continues to hold my family…who refuse to listen to anything I have to say regarding the claims of the church…and who remain mega uber active Truly Beliving Mormon’s.

My evolution from the church is still in transition.

As an active member I believed my teachers when they told me that the native inhabitants of the Americas descended from Hebrew bloodlines...I have come to learn that this is false.

The church taught me that Joseph Smith was never involved with money digging.... I have come to learn that this is a lie.

I was taught that the temple ceremony was handed down from Solomon’s Temple...I have come to learn that this is a lie.

I believed Joseph Smith was telling the truth when he denied practicing polygamy before the introduction of Sec 132 of the D&C...I have come to learn that he was was lying.

I believed the church when it taught that wicked apostates were spreading lies about Joseph Smith when he ordered the destruction of the “Nauvoo Expositor”.... I have come to learn that the church did and continues to lie about the truth behind this historical event.

I believed the Church when it said that the re-discovered Egyptian papyri where not the ones that Joseph Smith Translated into the Book of Abraham.... I now know that this was a lie.

I believed the church when it claimed that Brigham Young never taught the concepts in the “Adam-God and Blood Atonement Theories” as doctrine... I now know this was a lie

I believed the church when it claimed that that the stories of Joseph putting his face in a hat during his supposed translation was a false story made up by enemies of the church.... I now know that it was the church that was lying.

I resent that the church still holds power over my family.

I resent that the truth is a lie in Mormonism. As members, we must forsake actual, verifiable fact, for completely unverifiable mythological yarn. I resent that the truth teller is the apostate; the liar is considered righteous. Facts don't matter in the church. If a fact contradicts a blatantly false assertion, the fact is wrong - even more, it is evil. It will kill you spiritually.

I trusted the church to be honest...yet it never taught or told me that Joseph Smith Sr. had the same tree of life dream that Lehi supposedly had, nor told me about the Kinderhook plates or the story of Zelph ... This is a lie of omission

I bought the whole kit and kabutal, I paid my 10%, and I devoted my time, my talents and everything which the Lord had blessed me to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. I confessed my sins, I laid myself bare, I believed in the rewards of being a Mormon. But in the end I finally discovered the courage to critically examine the facts and in so doing, I discovered the TRUTH and the TRUTH has made me FREE!

I look forward to each new day with anticipation to the opportunity I’ll have of gaining new knowledge about this world in which we live. I hope someday to be completely free of the influences of Mormonism in my life.... but I’m not holding my breath…

Craig Paxton