Conversation with my mission president

This is a copy of my conversation with my mission president. I have removed his name for anonymity, and summarised his points for privacy, however my replies are written in full. I decided to tell him about my journey out of belief. This goes up until my final message, he may yet reply, in which case I will edit this post to add his final reply summary.

All told, I felt he was cordial and respectful. I understand from a believer’s point of view the necessity to assert the “eternal consequences” of my action. I’m not terribly phased by such assertions, as they simply make sense from within his worldview — without the proper evidence to back up the claims I am “as scared” of them as most Mormons are of going to the Catholic hell.

Aside from that, I think it went pretty well.

First letter– from me to my mission president

Dear President XXX,

After some deliberation I have decided to write this letter to you, knowing full well that it will probably be a source of some disappointment and discouragement to you. It is with a heavy heart that I write it, and hope to do so in the most appropriate manner possible.

It’s hard to know where to begin, so maybe I will just deliver the “bottom line” news first, and then work my way through the narrative afterwards.

Bottom line news

After a very lengthy personal journey, I’ve now come to a place where I no longer believe in the fundamental truth claims of the LDS church.

How this started

In regards to spirituality and religious belief, the last three years of my life have been a mixture of very interesting and very difficult. The narrative is lengthy and involves many elements. It’s hard to summarise so much in a letter (I could literally write a book about it) but I’ll try to address some of the highlights.

Over the past few years of my life as I’ve become more educated certain “small things” you could say have stuck out to me and caused me to pause occasionally in my beliefs; for instance, learning about evolution, science and the scientific method, the age of the earth geologically, and so on. While these small things never actually made me lose my faith, they were contributors to the overall picture.

However, nothing major happened for quite some time. I continued in my faith joyfully for quite some time, resolving that these questions would be answered in time.

However, in about February 2016 I had an interesting and critical experience that changed my life. One day I was taking a walk around my house which I often do and performing personal introspection. I had just watched a movie which was quite poignant to me on the topic of fear. I asked myself some difficult questions, one of which was:

“Is there any deep fear which I am harbouring that I need to overcome?”

After pondering on it for some time, I realised that there was one very deep fear;

“I’m afraid of learning of things that might cause me to re-consider my faith, or find that I am wrong about my religious beliefs”

This was a difficult realisation for me. So I made a decision to conquer my fears. I made a conscious decision to re-evaluate my beliefs and expose my mind to information that I was previously afraid of.

Indeed I reasoned to myself something like this J. Reuben Clark quote: “If we have the truth, it cannot be harmed by investigation. If we have not the truth, it ought to be harmed.”

And with a belief that God is all powerful and can resolve any questions that I may have.

I emailed my family and close friends (who are all members) and told them that I had to go on a journey of faith. My faith would never be completely solid while the shadows of doubt lingered like dark clouds on the horizon. I could push those clouds back, but they would never go completely away unless I dove into them and conquered them.

And so I did. I began a lengthy research phase.

Lengthy research phase

In the year 2015 I later calculated that I had spent over 1000 hours on research into a variety of topics ranging from Mormonism and Mormon history, other religions, psychology, philosophy, science and so on. I even did some voluntary work for FairMormon at one stage as I was spending an extended amount of time on their websites reviewing LDS apologetics.

Due to the scope of the research, there is no room here to go into any of the details, nor do I want to turn this letter into a laundry list of my concerns or problems with the LDS narrative – doing that might only serve to spark conflict or contention as our beliefs are sensitive matters close to our hearts.

I also prayed for answers to my questions many many times – including several nights of insomnia. Unfortunately, the answers never came, just more questions.


This journey ended several months later, when I eventually came to the conclusion I simply no longer believed in the classical LDS church narrative. I was as unable to choose to believe the church narrative as a majority of adults in the world are unable to choose to believe in Santa Claus.

I feel completely within my integrity to have come to the conclusion that I have. I also have a clear conscience that I do have “real intent” – and I communicated that to God when I prayed those many times that I would give up anything to know the truth.

While it sometimes is popular in LDS circles to think that doubters and dissidents are “just trying to justify sin” or “just lazy to put their shoulder to the wheel”, I am completely assured that this is not the case for me. I’ve laid myself bare, both in prayers and to my church leaders (Stake President and Bishop) in the several interviews I had during this process, and feel confident that I am completely within my integrity.

Why I write this to you

I expect I’m not the first missionary who served in the EMM who has subsequently experienced a loss of faith. In fact I am in contact with several old missionary friends who have. I doubt many of them would write to you to let you know of their change of faith – disconnecting and going offline with contacts like your old mission president seems to be a much easier path to follow so I expect many of them do that.

But that’s not who I am. I feel an obligation to communicate my position with family and friends and find a way to continue to have healthy relationships with them notwithstanding our differences and disagreements. I write to you in pursuit of that goal.

Thanks for reading, the rest of the letter is just a FAQ of what people tend to ask when I tell them the news.


Wife and family

My wife is a RM and still a believer. It’s been a very tough journey for the both of us. But in summary, we have had to stare into the abyss and frankly ask ourselves the question: “is our family more important than our religious beliefs?” – the answer is yes, and so we continue to work out how we will move forward.

My children are too young to understand anything that’s going on. Just like their future opinions on politics, I will allow them to make whatever decision they feel is right and support them wholeheartedly as their father, while still being a contributing factor.

My dad has responded positively to the news as he has a brother who has not believed for ~30+ years – he’s found a way to have a constructive relationship notwithstanding differences (of course, that doesn’t mean he didn’t experience disappointment or emotional difficulty). My mom has been terribly hurt (I think) and doesn’t seem to like talking about it much.

What do you believe in now?

The only God I ever believed in was the LDS God, and I don’t believe in that one anymore. I guess this makes me an atheist, but honestly I just don’t know – so probably an agnostic might be the best label for me.

However, I did not throw the baby out with the bathwater when I lost my faith, I took my time to gently consider the principles and values I had learned in my time in the LDS faith. So presently I still embrace many of the commandments and principles that I learned, though not for doctrinal reasons.

I’m a huge fan of the pursuit of timeless principles, as such I resonate deeply with Steve Covey and Jim Collins (as examples) – I read the 7 Habits of Highly Effective people and Collin’s books often.


I still view my mission as two of the best years of my life, and have many fond feelings and memories towards my mission time. Many lessons I learned there (and from you in particular) still resonate with me; “heavy is the head that bears the crown of leadership”, “good is the enemy of great”.

Are you still active?

Funnily enough some people first asked me if I was active, and didn’t even ask me about my beliefs J I still got to sacrament meeting twice a month to support my wife (which I think by church definitions means I’m still active), I don’t attend other meetings. I’ve been upfront with all my leaders about my position during my journey.

I have not resigned my membership – though it means nothing to me personally. I think it still means something to my folks so unless I feel a massive obligation to resign I probably won’t.

I’m still friends with my ward members and play volleyball and BBQ with them often.

Are you still open to reviewing your conclusions?

Yes, I am, but it would literally take a miracle for me to believe again. Some people believe in those so they think this is possible. I’ve “learned my way out” – so that implies I have reviewed a very large volume of LDS sourced content in this journey (general conferences, LDS owned websites, history archives, etc.) Unless there were some major changes to the fundamental narrative (the one I’ve spent so much time researching), I highly doubt I’d ever go back.

What are your main concerns?

Epistemological issues with the spiritual witness as a reliable source of truth; that is probably the major one. I remember all of the spiritual experiences I’ve had, I just question their nature due to the abundance of data that indicates their presence in many other religions. However, that is really now the tip of the iceberg which contains a lot of material.

Again, I don’t want to turn this into a laundry list so I won’t go on here unless you write back with specific interest.

Initial response — from mission president

(I’ve decided to paraphrase my mission president’s words, for the sake of not wholesale copying his email into this blog without permission.)


I will pray and meditate on how to respond, good to hear from you.

President XXX

Second Response — from mission president

(I’ve decided to paraphrase my mission president’s words, for the sake of not wholesale copying his email into this blog without permission. Keep in mind while my paraphrasing is terse and may seem blunt, he wrote well and kindly. )


  • I’ve prayed a lot about how to reply
  • I’m saddened by your conclusion
  • You need to reconnect with the Holy Ghost
  • I’ve heard all kinds of anti-Mormon lies
  • Listening to the Spirit is better than the internet information
  • Many people who leave the church get very angry and resentful — possessed by the spirit of Satan
  • Our church is heavily persecuted — this is a further evidence of it being true
  • You’re listening with your head more than your heart
  • There are very many very smart men in the church
  • If there were any gap, I’m sure the Brethren / other smart people would have noticed it
  • Church leaders are imperfect and make mistakes
  • Your decisions have an eternal impact on your soul
  • Praying for you


President XXX

My response to mission president after this

Hi President XXX,
Thanks for writing back, and especially for the cordiality of your letter, I appreciate that.

I can understand the temptation to go into great depth or detail in a response. I’ve intentionally tried to avoid that. There is simply so much material that we could discuss that it seems impractical to do a deep-dive into it. However, it seems necessary to mention a few small things, as you’ve pointed out. Not only this, I do enjoy these open, honest discussions, provided they are respectful.

To give an idea of scope, I created a blog just to catalogue my journey, and I’ve written over 50 000 words over the journey alone. For instance, this article is one I wrote about one of my initial and primary concerns; the apparent lack of reliability in using the spiritual witness as a basis for truth. (I don’t expect you to necessarily have the time to review my material. Read only if you are interested and have the time).

In short, it describes how the so-called spiritual experiences which we have and use to assert truth are in no way new, unique or special when contrasted with a multitude of other religions. It appears that others also use their own spiritual experiences as witnesses that their own religions are “true”. This leads us to circular arguments of trying to assert or ascertain whose spiritual experiences come from which source, to which there are ultimately no clear and helpful answers.

You’ve mentioned anti-Mormon literature. It is true that I used some anti-Mormon literature as a source of “topics to investigate”, however, I never trusted (and still don’t) any single source completely. All material is approached with tempering scepticism. All of the things I found I have verified through formal church sources (for instance, the essays, FairMormon which no doubt you’ve heard of and interacted with). However, my feelings about the spiritual witness remain some of the primary areas that I investigated. I accepted early that all leaders of the church are human, and humans make mistakes, they should be given some leeway for that. My primary interest was not in their failures and shortcomings, but in whether their fundamental claims were true.

I believe that the “shroud of darkness” feeling you’ve described is probably simply cognitive dissonance. Naturally I experienced that a lot during my journey. I’m sure you’re aware of the phenomenon, it’s a well understood psychological reaction to encountering conflicting facts. It certainly does feel extremely emotionally unpleasant.

In your email you’ve mentioned persecution as an evidence of the church’s veracity. In my research I’ve reviewed statements such as these (James E. Faust if memory serves made a statement on this). I think it’s hard to back up a statement that we’re more persecuted than everyone else; Scientology, the Unification Church, Jews and Jehovah’s WItnesses (to pick a few) all have their fair share of persecution over the years. I’ve heard this referred to as the church’s “persecution complex”. Within the framework of Mormon doctrine, this statement makes sense, however, it then becomes a challenge to explain why Jews were slaughtered in the second world war, why Scientologists get documentaries and exposés done about them, etc. Sun Myung Moon frequently cited the persecution of his group as evidence of its truth and importance.

In your email you’ve also mentioned what I’ll call an “appeal to authority” (the assertion that “the Brethren would know” if there were any holes). Unfortunately, other religions also do this all the time too. The current Pope (Francis) was educated in chemical technology and is very familiar with science; a Catholic could turn to a Catholic doubter and assert “I’m sure Pope Francis has thought of this”. There are many well educated people in many religions. From the Mormon worldview those religions have “holes” in them, but those people can’t see them either. Of itself, appeal to authority doesn’t really establish anything.

I mean no disrespect in my response to you. However, by reading my response I’m sure you get the feeling that “we could go on forever”. Discussions such as the one we’re having I have had with many people over the last few years, and I’m sure you have too.I have reviewed many pieces of literature from the LDS church including their formal and informal apologetics at length.

There is one thing you’ve said that is spot on. “My sense is that you are listening more to your head than to your heart.” This is correct, in fact it’s a conscious choice of mine. I have spent quite some time researching the various beliefs people have had over the centuries. One common thread is that people assert something is true “just because they feel so” — I’ve seen people who claim to be from Atlantis, who claim chakras are channels of energy in the body that have minute black holes, and lots of strange things in-between. When asked why they believe it, the reasons are often consistent with the types we Mormons present “I simply feel strongly this is the case, and have had countless experiences in my life to confirm it”. Confirmation bias does the rest; it makes us continually interpret reality in light of our previous assumptions.

I am open minded and open hearted; willing to accept anything as my worldview and willing to discover that I was wrong. Indeed, if shown the correct evidence, I am willing to abandon a lifetime of belief and admit I was wrong. I’ve intentionally chosen to “raise the bar” so to speak as to my requirements in believing something. I think evidence should come first, then belief. Naturally, I’m fully aware that this approach is exactly the inverse of the LDS narrative. I’ve read somewhat into epistemology and, quite simply, believe the evidence first belief after approach is the most rigorous and honest.

As for those who leave the LDS church, both who leave belief (like me) or who leave entirely (resign / get excommunicated), I think they’re a mixed bag, like active LDS people generally. I have met some very thoughtful, kind and genuine people who are ex-Mormon or transitioning Mormons. I have also met some more angry and hostile people. I think your evaluation may be based on the “wheel that squeaks gets the most attention” — about 2/3 of the church membership worldwide is less-active, certainly among them are the quiet departures like mine, and I know a few personally. I think I understand where they are coming from. I choose to forgive and move on with life, spending my time in more constructive ways, while making a commitment to be honest and maintain integrity. I don’t harbour any hatred or ongoing negative feelings towards the LDS church or its leaders, I only sincerely hope that as time goes on we (including all of “mankind”, our brothers and sisters) find our way through life to be happy, live high standards, be authentic, and value and seek truth vigorously.

I appreciate your time and don’t want this email to get too lengthy. I’m certainly open to continuing our discussion should you wish to. Otherwise I’m happy to leave it here and say that I respect you, think you’re a wonderful man and have learned many positive lessons from you, and do hope in some way to keep in touch and maintain a meaningful relationship, and wish you nothing but good.

Kind regards,


Final response from mission president

1. It’s easy for me to counter all of your points and arguments, but I have no desire to do so and engage in debate.
2. experience tells me these conversations go nowhere
3. I’m happy to keep communicating, however don’t want our communications to turn into a doctrinal debate
4. don’t try to convince others of your viewpoints
5. you can believe what you want to believe, you have agency
6. but you will be held accountable for the negative influence you have and destroying other’s faith
7. be sensitive to your wife, this must be devastating to her and you should fully support her beliefs. Don’t influence her with your viewpoint.
8. (bears his testimony, and) I’ve had sacred experiences that confirm this is true, without a doubt

President XXX

Next email from me to president.

Hi President XXX,

Thank you for having this conversation with me. I know it has touched on the soul and probably been poignant for you. I have pondered on how or even whether to send a final reply.
I only feel like the most appropriate response would be to share two quotes that have LDS origin.
  • “If we have the truth, it cannot be harmed by investigation. If we have not the truth, it ought to be harmed.”– President J. Reuben Clark
This deeply resonates with me. And:
  • “I admire men and women who have developed the questing spirit, who are unafraid of new ideas as stepping stones to progress. We should, of course, respect the opinions of others, but we should also be unafraid to dissent–if we are informed. Thoughts and expressions compete in the marketplace of thought, and in that competition truth emerges triumphant. Only error fears freedom of expression… This free exchange of ideas is not to be deplored as long as men and women remain humble and teachable. Neither fear of consequence or any kind of coercion should ever be used to secure uniformity of thought in the church. People should express their problems and opinions and be unafraid to think without fear of ill consequences. … We must preserve freedom of the mind in the church and resist all efforts to suppress it.” — Hugh B. Brown

I will not be adhering to your caution to not share my viewpoints. We live in a society that (thankfully) respects free thought and the exchange of ideas. I passionately believe in the “marketplace of thought” Hugh B. Brown spoke of, which is ultimately engineered to discover truth. Indeed, Joseph Smith was unafraid to sincerely question the status quo of his time, and I now share a similar absence of fear. I feel the same way towards your warning as you feel towards a Muslim who says you will not go to heaven for not embracing Islam, or a Jehovah’s Witness who claims your existence is threatened should you not embrace the Jehovah’s Witness worldview.

I wish you well. Perhaps you have no desire to continue any conversations with me after this one. I would accept that. I hope all the best for you and your family. May you continue to find joy and peace in your life.

Kind regards,



  1. D. Estrada

    I admire your courage in confronting reality instead of pretending to believe something you no longer believe. I wish I had done the same 20 years ago. Thanks for telling the world your story and for helping others find truth.


    1. shawn (Post author)

      Thanks so much.


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