The first letter I wrote to my family and friends

(Sent 22-06-2015)

Dear family and close friends.

I’m writing to you because you are a close family member or very close friend of mine to make a private, confidential announcement. (Naturally I ask that you keep it that way)
After much thought, prayer, research, “open-mindedness”, and even a few sleepless nights, I’ve decided that the time has come in my life for me to honestly, sincerely, carefully and thoroughly review my entire belief system.
Some of you included in this email already know this as I have previously told you in person or other means. For others it may come as a shock, but before you “freak out”, and especially before you reply, I’d invite you to read the rest of my email, and give it at least 24-48 hours of thought.
What do you mean by “review my entire belief system”?
Firstly, none of this is sudden, nor to those closest to me should it be very unexpected. I’ve been asking a lot of questions for a long time.
About two years ago now I decided it was time to open up my heart and mind beyond what I’ve ever done before and face the fears and doubts that were occasionally hanging around my periphery. Without going into much detail, the particular issue that beset me at that time was the theory of evolution, which in the last few years I have spent a significant amount of time researching. I’m aware that of everyone reading this email some of you have very strong views against evolution, again I invite you to not “freak out” and not reply until you’ve read and digested the whole email (And I don’t intend this email to be the beginning of an endless debate about evolution; suffice it to say it’s an important question and one of many I am thinking about).
To cut a long story short, the last two years have been an incredible journey of learning, praying, meditation, etc. and it has finally reached a kind of “threshold” where I feel confident enough to take a step back and re-evaluate my entire belief system. I realised this in the shower about two months ago when I began this journey — this is re-evaluating everything. This starts from the very basic question “Does God exist?” all the way through to the specifics of the Book of Mormon, etc. Everything is under review at the moment.
Two quick sidenotes:
  1. Again, I ask you not to freak out. As missionaries we invite people to do this kind of stuff all the time. As missionaries we are highly confident that such a review, done properly would lead someone straight into our church. If you have confidence in me and sincerely believe our church is true, then all the more reason not to freak out.
  2. Of the people I’ve included in this email, several of you have had the opportunity at some point in your lives to do just this thing. Annie for example was approached by the missionaries in England and at the time had the opportunity to open-mindedly and open-heartedly listen to the message they shared. She joined the church. My mom is a convert to the church too. But what you may not realise is that I have not yet had such an opportunity (or, more correctly, I have not yet taken such an opportunity) until this point in my life as I was born into the church. Believe it or not it is surprisingly difficult to do this thing in the church once you are already a member. Part of me wishes I could have been a convert actually (then I would have had this opportunity at a mature age) — ah well, taking the opportunity now within my own circumstances.
But what about your testimony of the church? 

At this point in time I sincerely believe in God and the truthfulness of the Gospel. My faith has indeed changed over the past few years, no doubt (no pun intended), but I still believe. Just two weeks ago I shared my testimony in sacrament meeting (and my family were not present so I had no obligation / expectation / push from them to do so) in which I shared that “I cannot prove there is a God, but I believe”. This is from the bottom of my heart and a most sincere reflection of where I stand at the moment.

In short: I have faith.

Are you going to go less-active?
No. For multiple reasons.
Firstly, as mentioned at this point in time I still believe in Mormanism and God. So the first and primary reason why I won’t go less active is because I believe.
Secondly, I love and respect my dear wife Annie, and she is still very strong in her faith. In fact one major reason I married her was for that very faith. As long as we are married I will always go with her to church and obey the commandments as best I can (which I do anyway). Along with this is respect for family values and traditions. If my family are ever around we will go to church out of custom and tradition at the very least.
And thirdly, I actually lack respect for less-active people who claim they “still believe” — if you’re going to do something, ruddy do it properly!! If you believe, hang around and obey the commandments. If you don’t believe, then tell people!
Are you going to obey the commandments?
Yes, I don’t see why I would turn around and start drinking or smoking at this point — that would just be stupid (to subject myself to an addiction). Though I have had a few doubts here and there, I don’t have any doubt as to the harm that (using WOW as an example) those substances do to our bodies. At this point in time I am still a full-tithe payer. Again, this is because of faith. If I ever reached the point where I have enough doubt to not pay tithing I would likely still pay it for Annie — as “a problem to be solved is not as important as a person to be loved”.
The same 1, 2, 3 as above in “less active” apply to the commandments.
I will note here that by those criteria I “should” probably be saved anyway 😛 since we are judged D&C 137:9 “For I, the Lord, will judge all men according to their works, according to the desire of their hearts.” — but I won’t belabour this point as I don’t want to open up a big doctrinal discussion.
What about Annie / Saffi?
Annie has been immensely supportive of me throughout this process. Though some of you are learning about this now in this email, Annie has known for the whole duration. (We keep no secrets in our marriage). — but that doesn’t mean it’s not had its hard moments. If any of you are willing to reach out and support Annie (which naturally I do) please do so. She is with me and has been throughout the whole journey with great patience, faith and love. (Though sometimes she wishes I would sleep a bit better!)
Saffi is three years old. If there’s one thing I agree with its that under 8 children cannot decide, and maybe 8 is also very young but “okay”. I will support and teach Saffi as I was taught as a child — to have faith and approach God in sincerity, inasmuch as that’s what I still believe in. However, and here is a perhaps a difference, I believe strongly in the importance of teaching children “how to think” and not only “what to think” — If Joseph Smith’s parents had not struck that balance (of what and how) the restoration would never have occurred.
Why are you telling us this?
Over the last few years of my life I feel I’ve grown immensely, and one particular area that I’ve grown in understanding is that of integrity.
What the implication of integrity in my life and in this situation is: I am not content to go through this process privately and not tell anyone. For me that would require the maintenance of a pretence in conversations / interactions with you that I am not comfortable maintaining. I would rather open up in sincerity to you, my family and friends, than hide my private, ongoing re-evaluation. You are all people who are deeply invested in our faith and especially for my parents my beliefs and faith are very very important to you.
You need to know.
I want to help you and I have material and thoughts to send to you
Naturally you’re welcome to send me stuff. I have done an immense amount of reading over the past few years, and I can honestly tell you I’ve “Given the Lord equal time”  (in case you’ve heard that story from Elder Ballard). — so you won’t find me very “unversed” in Mormon doctrine or viewpoints I assure you. I don’t know everything, of course, I have not read every church talk in existence, of course, but generally speaking I’m not ignorant and have certainly delved into a lot of church-centric viewpoints as well (as an example, I’ve read “converging paths to truth” a BYU lecture series about science / religion among many other things)
Before you send stuff however, I have a few … provisos.
  1. Remember that I still pray and do my scripture study every day, hold FHEs and go to church. This is not a problem of laziness or lack of “real intent”.
  2. Pretension and patronisation are highly ineffective with me. (In contrast to that I have always been very touched by a man without eloquence) — I.E we speak as equals / brothers and sisters on a journey toward truth. See D&C 18.21 and D&C 19:29-30
  3. Please don’t send me “shrill” stuff (I.E don’t send me stuff like this)
  4. Please don’t send me highly dichotomous / polarised stuff (like this)
  5. If you send me stuff, and are interested in helping my journey, then by extension that means I can send you stuff. I commit to read if you commit to read. I will generally expect good listening to happen on both sides of the discussion. A conversation involves talk both ways.
  6. There are no quick fixes to the problems that I am trying to solve. Please don’t try to “quickly fix” them. I am not depressed, but, generally people understand that depression has no easy solution. This is similar in that respect.
I want to remain updated on your progress
I’ve decided to start a blog wherein I will be sharing updates on this journey. If you want to subscribe just reply to this email and let me know — I’ll add you when I create the blog. It will be a partially anonymous blog for personal / professional SEO reasons (I don’t want people to be able to Google my full name and find it).
It will contain updates as certain thoughts / conclusions gradually develop.
Can I tell anyone?
For the moment please keep this within the recipients of this email and spouses. I will gradually tell some other people (I intend to let my bishop and stake president know at some point soon — as well as the Stake young men’s president who I serve under).
What can I do to help you?
The number one thing you can do to help me is to support me in my journey without judgement or criticism. Don’t write emails or stuff to me saying you’re “immensely disappointed” or similar — stuff like that doesn’t really help me get closer to the truth but only serves to put unnecessary emotional strain on our relationships (remember: “Never let a problem to be solved become more important than a person to be loved.”). — Please also support and love Annie.
The number two thing is prepare for whatever my final decision is in your hearts and minds. I don’t know if that will come anytime soon. I doubt it. This could be a lifelong journey which never reaches a 100% conclusion. But perhaps one day I will make a choice, and at that time we will still be family and friends.
I love you all, thanks for being important parts of this journey.
Kind regards,

1 Comment

  1. Pingback: My faith transition -- Public Announcement | Shawn's Odyssey

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