Thursday, August 18, 2016

A Victim of Gaslighting

Gaslighting or gas-lighting is a form of mental abuse in which information is twisted or spun, selectively omitted to favor the abuser, or false information is presented with the intent of making victims doubt their own memory, perception, and sanity.

As a young 10 year old Mormon boy, I always looked forward to going to our weekly Primary Meeting, a special program designed for 8 to 12 year old youth in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Back in those days, Primary was held mid-week, usually on a Tuesday or a Wednesday depending on which LDS Ward you attended.  It was during these religious based meetings we would gather with friends and be taught by our teachers many of the fundamental teachings of the LDS Church.  It was also here we would gather to sing such children classics as “Give Said the Little Stream”, “Jesus wants me for a Sunbeam” or one of my favorites “Book of Mormon stories that my teacher tells to me”.

As a youth I loved hearing the stories of Lehi and his family, of their fleeing Jerusalem, building a ship and coming to The Promised Land, America, which had been preserved and set aside for them as a reward for serving God and keeping his commandments. We were taught that God only aloud very special groups come to the Americas, those that kept His commandments.
Ether 2:7

7And the Lord would not suffer that they should stop beyond the sea in the wilderness, but he would that they should come forth even unto the land of promise, which was choice above all other lands, which the Lord God had preserved for a righteous people.

I imagined America as a vast empty land devoid of humanity following Noah’s flood, that the Lord had “Preserved” or set aside America for Lehi and his family and those whom the Lord had deemed worthy of being bought here.

I loved reading the stories in the Book of Mormon and cherished the fact that I was among a few people on earth who knew the true identity of the Native Americans…that they were the descendants of Lehi, members of the House of Israel.

During my teen years, President Spencer W. Kimball, president of the LDS church gave an address in which he gave further confirmation to the stories I had been taught in my youth when he declared that:

“…Lehi and his family became the ancestors of all of the Indian and Mestizo tribes in North and South and Central America and in the islands of the sea”
Kimball went on to add that Lehi’s decentants, often referred to as the Lamanites: “…are in all of the states of America from Tierra del Fuego all the way up to Point Barrows, and they are in nearly all the islands of the sea from Hawaii south to southern New Zealand.”

I felt firm from the instruction of my youth that I knew who the forefathers of the Indigenous peoples of the America were.

It was during my mission that I first encountered information that conflicted with what I had been taught from youth to my adult hood. An investigator asked me why Mormon’s believed that Native Americans were from Jerusalem instead from Asia.  “Asia?, I scoffingly said, “Why would anyone believe Native Americans were from Asia”.  “Well” said he “that’s where the scientific evidence suggests they came from.” 

I brushed his scientific evidence comment off as just the speculations of man.  I had access to something far greater and reliable than his science…the pronouncements of God’s Prophets on earth.

It was also during a street meeting while on my mission that I met Ian.  Ian was an evangelical who just happened to walk past while my mission companion and I were contacting a street meeting…the process of stopping people walking down a sidewalk and introducing them to Mormonism.  While in the process of introducing Ian to the Book of Mormon he made a comment that I found particularly bizarre.  “Oh” he said “I’ve heard about that book, isn’t it the one that was written using a rock in a hat?”  “What?” I laughed “A what in a what…that’s the most bizarre anti-Mormon lie I have ever heard in my life…where did you hear that?“  I exclaimed.  I then proceeded to testify to Ian that the Book of Mormon was translated by the gift and power of God using the Urim and Thummin, an ancient device used by prophets of old to translate languages.

Time pasted, I returned honorably from my mission having helped convert many people to the Church of Jesus Christ and eventually met the girl of my dreams, married and raised a family.
 At the same time I grew in my devotion to Mormonism, holding new callings of greater responsibility such as Elders Quorum President, Bishopric and member of the Stake High Council…but those issues I passed off as bizarre and crazy…had left their mark…they lay dormant in my mind.

Then in 2003, while searching for information on Native Americans and their relationship with the LDS church I can across an article written by Dr. Thomas D. Murphy, professor of Anthropology at Edmunds Community College in Washington State that rocked my world. 

The article was about DNA and how there was no evidence to support the claims made in the Book of Mormon.  All my life I had been taught that Native Americans were descended from Lehi and knew that prophets had reinforced this teaching.  I was familiar with the word DNA, it was used to get prisoners falsely imprisoned released…but now it was being used to show that Prophets were wrong when they had declared that Native Americans were descended from a  middle eastern population?  And then shortly after the LDS Church quietly changed a few words to the Book of Mormon.

In the introduction on a line that had read:

"...all were destroyed except the Lamanites, and they are
the principal ancestors of the American Indians"

The church quietly changed it to read:

"...all were destroyed except the Lamanites, and they are among the ancestors of the American Indians."

Nothing was ever said over the pulpit at church, no official statements were made in General Conference…it was just quietly changed.

With the change of a few simple words…Lamaites had gone from representing every single native American living, as President Kimball had once declared…in all of the states of America from Tierra del Fuego all the way up to Point Barrows, and they are in nearly all the islands of the sea from Hawaii south to southern New Zealand….to merely living among these native populations.
As my doubts mounted, one piece after another of the complicated puzzle that made up my belief in Mormonism fell apart until there was nothing left.

It was during this time of rising doubts, investigation and re-examination in my Mormon faith that I discovered a parallel universe of activity taking place at the very same time I was losing my faith. A mounting apologetics which was pointing the finger back at me for being so ignorant and trusting in the words of the leadership of the Mormon church.  It wasn’t them, that were at fault, they said, it was me and my failure to read the right articles and books or study Mormonism hard enough.  These same apologist for the church were telling me that those notions I had learned in my youth were never the prevalent official teachings of the church, just one of several plausible theories. That the church had always taught that the Lamanites in the Book of Mormon, were just a small group set among other people when they arrived in the Americas, that one shouldn’t expect to find DNA evidence of any non-Asian descended population like the Book of Mormon suggests because the Lehites were such a small group arriving in a promised land that had already been populated with millions of Native Americans who were already here when Lehi and company arrived.

Then in 2015 I felt the earth shake under my feet once again when the church released a new article admitting to that story Ian had told me so many years ago while on my mission.  That Joseph Smith had used a rock, he had found while digging a well to help him translate the Book of Mormon.  I was crushed.

And once again the barrage of apologetics hit the fan, claiming that there was nothing new here, that this was all common knowledge and had been written about in church publications for years. That the fault was with the members of the church if they didn’t know these things.

 During each of these disclosures, I felt I was losing my mind,  going crazy or in a state of complete shock and disbelief. I had been a devoted member of the church, held positions of responsibility in the church, been married in the temple, raised an active believing family and sent my sons on missions…how could I not have known these things?

I’ve only recently come to understand that I’ve been a victim of Gaslighting.  The LDS church took difficult information which painted them in a bad light and instead of just coming clean, asking for forgiveness and admitting it they instead spun the information so that it would make their truth claims remain believable but doing it by throwing those members who were aware of their action under the proverbial bus by recasting recent history, blaming members for not doing their homework, for taking the words of so called prophet literally or without the needed nuance.

The 1st stage of gaslight is disbelief.  Which was my immediate reaction when confronted with the information that did not comport with what I had been taught. I didn’t believe it., even after learning the validity of the information I didn’t believe that the church would hide the imformation.
Next is defense.  I defended what I thought I knew to be true against what was actually true.

Then come depression or cognitive dissonance due to the conflicting nature of the gas lighting process…I literally think I was losing my mind and at times I wanted to just die rather than face my new reality that the church may not be what it claimed to be.

The good news is that there is light at the end of the tunnel…and it starts by identifying the Gaslight Effect. Remember that knowledge is power and once you recognize the effect you can do something about it by getting out of the unhealthy environment of church apologetic gas lighting.

For more information on gaslight refer to an article by Robin Stern PHD from whom I barrowed information for this post.

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