Last month, I went to an Ex-Mormon Foundation Conference in Salt Lake City, Utah for the very first time. Since then, I've been reflecting on what I gained from that experience. Part of my reason for wanting to attend the conference was to meet many of the people with whom I have been sharing exchanges on the PostMormon discussion board (http://www.postmormon.org/). People who have shared similar experiences with me in disassociating themselves from the Mormon Church. People who can relate to my struggles. People with whom I have common ground. And meeting these people was definitely worth the trip. Going on the discussion board on PostMormon.org has been very enlightening and reassuring since so many of these people, like me, have discovered the falsities and contradictions in Mormonism -- and doing so, they have struggled to free themselves from the Mormon mindset, which is no easy task. So meeting these people in person completed the circle to form actual friendships.
The conference began with an "open mic" session (ala Fast and Testimony meetings) where people got up to introduce themselves and say whatever they wanted to share. This was the first time I began to put "aliases" with actual names and faces, and I had several "aha" moments during that two-hour session. I have always found it very interesting to place faces with voices of people to whom I have talked on the phone over the years, especially at work -- and they rarely turn out to look the way I have envisioned them. And of course, this was a similar type of experience in that regard. There were many people who got up and gave very touching "testimonies." One woman in partricular almost had me in tears because I could relate so much with what she said about feeling trapped in the Mormon Church for so long and finally being able to break free. And the ones that were fairly young and had managed to break free made me feel very envious since I remained "trapped" until I was 52 years old.
Another very touching part of the conference was seeing a documentary entitled, "In the Shadow of the Temple." This film is about people who, although they have discovered many unsolvable problems with the Mormon Church and thus have become non-believers, have remained active in it because of family pressures. As stated in a review on Amazon.com:
"Those who consider leaving Mormonism face the consequences of isolation from their communities, shattered marriages and devastated family relationships. In the Shadow of the Temple is a 55 minute documentary that weaves together the stories of still-practicing non-believers and ex-Mormons as they reject the culture and teachings of the Church. Their strategies of coping can be as varied as hiding their disbelief and continuing to practice, to defiant refutation of the Church and its teachings."I was very touched by this film, and was in tears by the end. I was very gratified to be told at the end of the film by one of the producers who was there, though, that all of those who appeared in "shadow" in the film had all "come out" by the end of the filming.
Another wonderful part of the conference was the dinner on Saturday night at which Tal Bachman spoke. He is a musician and former Mormon who left the Mormon Church several years ago after discovering many things about the doctrine that he could not reconcile. His story was very compelling, and I was very interested in how it began. He talked about how he had been called to be the Gospel Doctrine teacher in Sunday School, and the research that he began to do about Genesis and the Book of Abraham. When he began to see many conflicting ideas in the two, he began to do more research and discovered many things that he did not previously know. This led him to do more research, and of course, this led him to discover more and more inaccuracies, inconsistencies and contradictions in the Standard Works of the LDS Church. Ultimately, he came to the conclusion that Joseph Smith had made up the whole thing, and that Mormon doctrine is filled with lies and deception.
Continuing with his story, Tal said that after coming to this conclusion, he could not rationalize out teaching the Gospel Doctrine class anymore, so he went to his Bishop to ask to be released. After discussing what he had discovered with the Bishop, and the Bishop providing no good answers, the Bishop suggested that he speak with the Stake President about his concerns. So Tal made an appointment to meet with his Stake President, and was dumbfounded by the Stake President's reaction. According to Tal, the Stake President told him that he knew that Joseph Smith had lied about many things, but that he (the Stake President) chose to stay in the church anyway because it made him a better husband and father. When Tal said that, I was stunned. Of course, Tal wasn't able to see the rationale behind the Stake President's thinking and was very confused by what he had encountered with both his Bishop and the Stake President. Apparently after that, Tal talked to his wife (and mother of his 8 children) about what he had discovered, what he had been told by both the Bishop and the Stake President, and she was as puzzled by the whole thing as Tal was. He described how sick they both felt at that point, not knowing what to do next.
Tal concluded his remarks by saying that the icing on the cake was a couple of weeks later when the Primary children were giving the Sacrament Meeting program, saying that they knew the church was true, that Joseph Smith is a Prophet of God, and all the things that Mormon children are taught to believe -- and there was the Stake President sitting there in Sacrament Meeting, smiling broadly as he listened to all of that. Tal said that he and his wife sat there, looking at each other in puzzlement, and that they didn't go to church after that. Unfortunately, though, the process of extricating themselves from the Mormon Church also eventually tore Tal and his wife apart, and they are now divorced.
All in all, my experience at the Ex-Mormon Foundation conference in SLC was a very good one, and I am very glad that I went. I hope to be able to go next year as well -- and would like to make it an annual event. After describing my experiences to my daughter, she told me that she would like to go next year with me, and I would love to share the experience with her.
One very big treat was driving from Denver, Colorado to SLC - not on my way there (because I drove through lower Wyoming, which was very tan and bland), but on the way back. On my return trip from Utah to Colorado, I drove through southeast Utah and then into Colorado on I-70, which was an absolutely beautiful drive. Being Fall, the leaves on the trees were changing colors, and the backdrop of scenic beauty was breathtaking, particularly through the area surrounding Aspen, Colorado. Driving along with the mountains surrounding me and the Colorado River running alongside the highway with the Fall colors splashed through the scenery was almost surreal.