Maria and Henning Schnurr – We are German ExMormons
We made this video not to attack the faith of happy church members or to enlarge our “Exmormon-team” but because we want to help people with doubts about the “truth” of the church. We like to help them leave the church in a constructive way and to show (like in the other videos) that there is a life after Mormonism. We think it is always important to have different sources of information to be able to make a well-founded decision. If someone wants to remain a church member because she/he is deeply convinced we think that’s fine and we understand that. The most important thing is, that we find joy and happiness as individuals as well as mankind. We think anyways that it doesn´t matter WHAT someone believes but HOW. As for us, we are not able to believe in the Mormon church anymore and we want to tell everyone that we enjoy our life and look forward to a happy, exciting future.
-Maria & Henning Schnurr
I‘m 34 years old and currently work as a freelance industrial designer in Cologne/Germany. I love biking and the outdoors – and I‘ll be a Dad very soon. I grew up in a very nice Mormon family with parents who taught me a lot of good things for life. I’m still grateful for what my parents did for us and how much they showed us love and taught us good principles which were often based on the teachings of the church. However, besides the good aspects I started to notice some negative things about the church.
In my youth I learned that to live standards equals standardization. In church I was taught that we are all individuals but that there is only one way to real happiness. All things that contradicted this path like certain music, movies, or just the way I wanted to dress were more or less seen as a danger to my happiness. I was not forced to follow these standards, but I had a lot of situations where I had to justify myself. Why are such superficial rules so important for some members, I was wondering?
Even though it was more a rebellious motivation during my youth it caused me to start thinking critically. After my rebellious period (from the time I went on my mission until now) I came to understand more and more the systematic mind control within the church. Especially with the youth and the missionaries.
For a long time I noticed that within the church most members think much more about what someone believes than how a person believes something. For example, living together out of wedlock is one of the biggest sins of our generation in the eyes of the church. But isn’t the way a couple lives together much more important than the formality? I noticed that most members can’t really have a differentiated view. A lot of the members become self-righteous and think very categorized which is a limited form of thinking.
My doubts grew over the years.. There were always things I did not understand in the scriptures. How could a just god curse a people up to the Third and Fourth Generation as he did in the Old Testament and Book of Mormon, especially when the church claims that there is no original sin? Why did Adam and Eve have to break the law? Why was the Pharaoh punished because of taking Sarai when Abraham just lied? Why should it be the worst sin to deny the Holy Spirit? Why was one country/land more holy than others? Why was I taught about doctrines that seemed irrelevant such as the New Jerusalem, Kolob and so on? How can the church believe in the story of Noah’s Ark? To this and many other questions I never got an answer that satisfied me. And I saw a lot of things I was not agreeing on with the church. So I put most of the stuff on a shelf because I still believed because I had felt “the Spirit”.
But over the years I got more serious questions, and I noticed more and more that my principles were not the standards of the church.
I was often concerned about the problems that the world was facing and less concerned about the problems that the church deemed to be important. I saw that due to our western lifestyle we produce a lot of poverty and injustice in the world. I noticed that the church members very often supported fundamentalist politicians with nationalist tendencies. A lot of the members supported a war that the UN did not agree to (the Iraq war). Many members were thinking that it is the way of spreading the gospel to other parts of the world, what I considered to be deep fundamentalism. A lot of members agreed with torturing people during war. The church teaches that the earth is a gift from god but most members generally seem to be apathetic to environmental movements. I noticed the church fought against abortion but at the same time most of the members opposed a medical care system. I noticed a church that wanted humility but taught us patriotism in a manner of national pride. I did not understand why homosexuals are a big problem to my marriage and thought that the church is wrong in this point.
I could continue for a long time. But to all these concerns I was told that the problem lies with myself or the imperfections of other members. And even the church leaders are only humans. My problem was that I thought that the church leaders function as a corrective. As a missionary I taught my investigators that we need prophets to guide the church by divine inspiration so that the church will not go astray. But I saw that the church ignored lots of the principles I believed in or even nourished the problems in the world. The central question to me was: Why do we need prophets when they are not talking about the things that are important (in my opinion) or sometimes even harmful? I asked my bishops, my parents, my wife, lots of friends – but did not get any answers.
I noticed more and more the contradictions in the church’s teachings. The questions got deeper and deeper and the doctrines and history of the church no longer seemed consistent to me anymore.
In university I took philosophy classes and loved it a lot. Here I could ask open questions that were not constrained. I noticed many friends and just people around me in “the world” who had very high and reasonable moral principles (personal conviction) and not only moral standards (group/institutional standards). They were not that categorized in their thinking and were mostly more open in finding good arguments for support. I noticed that the motivation model the church was using most of the time uses extrinsic motivation instead of intrinsic. The result is that people act out of fear or for obtaining blessings. I wondered for a long time how people could become a God (what always seemed an abstract teaching to me anyway) when just being motivated extrinsically. Just following rules because I wanted to receive my blessings was not the personal progress I saw for me.
What really frustrated me is that the church has no open discussion culture. You can ask questions but please the right ones! We should notice the good fruits of the church and ignore the bad ones. I thought it was a joke by Dieter F. Uchtdorf when he mentioned last year in a broadcasted stake conference for Germany that we can prove the truth of the church by looking at its fruits. That woke me up. I noticed more and more that church members ignored many global problems like poverty, environmental destruction, energy consumption, peace etc. How was it possible that Utah with about 70% Mormons has the highest online pornography rate in the US, that they have the highest consumption rate of antidepressants, the highest suicide rate among the youth, the highest bankruptcy rate and so on? Are these the fruits of the gospel?
I was told that I have to differ between church culture and the church doctrine. I was fed up being told that the bad fruits are related to “church culture” and not doctrine/institution – but the good fruits of course ARE related to the church doctrine/institution. Aren’t the church leaders supposed to correct habits and members? Who makes the handbooks and doctrine that influence the church culture?
I did not want to share the gospel with non-member friends for a long time but was not able to deny the church on the other hand because I was afraid to deny my feelings. It really troubled me to notice more and more that my belief was not as consistent as I thought it was. What made this situation even worse was the thought about Maria, my parents, my member friends inside the church and the church’s expectations in general. I knew that I would disappoint a lot of them if I left. But I knew that I had to change something in my life.
When I started to share my doubts with Maria years ago, it was not that easy. The problem was that she understood my doubts pretty well. Especially the problems the church was ignoring (look at Maria’s report) was something she understood much too well. And since she understood it pretty well, it made her even more sad. I did not attend the temple for years because I was not able to say (in the temple recommend interview) that I really believed in the prophets as men who are called by god.
At this time I did not know about the real story of the church but I noticed anyways the systematic contradictions. I tried for years receiving an answer from god by praying, reading the scriptures and so on but sometimes I felt even more frustrated when reading the scriptures or praying sincerely to God. When I thought during scripture study, reading on the LDS homepage and praying I noticed even more the faults of the gospel. Many member friends understood my concerns but told me to rather ignore my doubts. I had very bad years living in that ambivalence. It really depressed me. When I look back I can’t explain why I did not start earlier with my research in church “critical” literature to find out the truth about the church. I can only say that I was not resistant enough against mind control and I think if someone believes she/he is resistant she/he is probably a victim of mind control. Education and intelligence don’t protect anyone from subtle brainwashing.
When I began to study on the FARMS and FAIR websites I started to be really concerned. I knew FAIR and FARMS are not official publications of the church, but the church makes no official statements about some uncomfortable facts in order to remain neutral. Reading some of the apologetics about things I had no clue about was just shocking. When I read that the apologetics justify that the prophet Joseph Smith did not just live polygamy but also married a 14 year old girl I was just disgusted. That is a pedophile, and no excuse because he lived in another “era”! The church always claims to have higher standards than the world, and these standards are claimed to be independent of the zeitgeist. Then why do the apologetics mention the zeitgeist? By the way, today the youth of the church are not even allowed to date someone from the other gender until the age of sixteen.
That was just the tip of the iceberg and the start of researching the church without the limitations of avoiding so-called “anti-Mormon” information. Very soon I found out a lot more about polygamy, polyandry, racism, the first vision, the Book of Abraham and all kind of things I did not know about. I always had a problem with polygamy anyway, and it was hard to believe that God would allow a husband to go looking for another wife while being married. If a man was forced to marry a certain woman it would be even worse because it would contradict free agency. That the blacks were not allowed to hold the priesthood was something I never understood because as we are all supposed to be created in the image of God I wondered how the church could be so racist over 130 years?
I was wondering how we could stay in a group like the Mormon church for so long and believe still in its truth and how the group was influencing me. That is a very long topic which I will touch on only briefly.
The Mormon church uses a very intelligent balance of personal experiences we are promised to obtain through worthiness, obedience, offerings (time, money, ideology, physically etc.), trust, prayer, scripture study and so on, and the group which has lots of respectable and eloquent people who testify about their experiences. If you don’t feel the spirit it’s more or less your fault because everyone else felt it before. The testimony by the Holy Spirit is a feeling that is the highest proof of the truth, which is actually an example of circular reasoning. Real truth and real feelings are two different things! The Holy Ghost is not fail-proof as the example of Paul H. Dunn shows us (a member of the seventy who told many inspirational stories caught lying).
The influence of group emotions became more clear to me during the football (soccer) world championship in Germany in 2006. When growing up in Germany I had always a big problem with patriotic feelings because I was alarmed by our own history. While watching the games with lots of other Germans, I noticed strong emotions towards our team and our country. I felt a new spirit towards my nation I had never been proud of before. Almost everyone in Germany from a craftsman to my professors (people I highly respected) and from a native German to Germans with immigrant background were joining the new national feelings in public. We had a mission and a rival. That is nothing I think is bad (as far as the rivals are not viewed as enemies), but I noticed the group dynamics influencing me. The style and the emotions at a world championship are totally different than the spiritual feelings at church but I noticed that the feelings seemed unique and convincing (at least for the moment). I started to think again about my positive feelings towards my country and thought that I’m not better because of it but that I could identify with it a lot. But I notice always at big sport events and inside church that it is very important for some people to which team you belong. When I watched the movie “The Wave”, I thought about the Third Reich and similar examples, I recognized the danger of rituals, leaders who are “infallible”, strong and irrational opinions, defined enemies, the danger of failure, the joy about success and so on.
A movement like the Mormon church needs (trustworthy) people as examples (leaders), a goal, standards that make the members special and different, an enemy, signs (dress code, greetings etc.), and many more. (I noticed how much the church was using these mechanisms). Today I would say the Mormons do a pretty “good job” in combining group dynamics and personal experiences based on funneled questions so people think they found out by themselves. The personal experience is shared by a group of more or less trustworthy members that comfort each other. Church members may ask: How can 13 million people be wrong? I can‘t say – neither can I say how a billion other believers “know” that their religions are true or how millions of Germans followed their leaders in the 3rd Reich with the strongest trust. Who will deny that some of them had been deeply convinced to do such irrational evils? How strong they had been convinced is absolutely impressive, but the effects of their blind obedience were devastating. The degree to which people are convinced of something is not at all a sign of truth or of the good. It should be rather alarming.
Today, Neo-Nazis all over the world are trying to deny the holocaust. Many church members try to ignore or justify polygamy, racism, or changes in the history of the church. Apologetics and church leaders filter and change the history when presenting it to members. Before I will be misunderstood, I don’t want to compare Mormons with Nazis but I want to show the dangerous parallels of the mechanisms both are using. I know a lot of wonderful people including my family that are Mormon. I see absolutely no reason to see any danger in people who are active Mormons. There is a big difference between a member and a system. I’m not angry at church leaders even though I see that they deny the real history and doctrine that is not officially revised. I think that they do it because they mostly really believe in it. I don’t see myself as a victim of a bad system. Nothing is just black and white. I learned good things in church and had experiences I don’t want to miss. To work (think) me out of Mormonism really taught me things I would not have learned without all the bad and good things during my time in church.
To finally recognize that the church is a complete hoax was a wonderful, refreshing feeling of freedom for me. It is hard to describe to an active Mormon how beautiful, nice and mind-expanding that step was for me. I think this feeling can be compared pretty well to the feeling the biblical Adam and Eve must have had when their eyes were opened and they had to leave the Garden of Eden. The way out is hard but more than worth it.
My name is Henning and I’m an Ex Mormon.
I’m 33 years old and I was a convert to the Church 15 years ago. I got to know the Church when I was an exchange student in Oregon where I lived with a great Mormon family. Back in Germany I decided to get baptized and was an active member ever since. I went on a mission to France, married my husband Henning in the temple and always held callings in the Church, most of them enjoyable and full of learning opportunities. As to my professional background – I studied politics and communication sciences and currently work in a foresight consulting company, meaning I assist companies and institutions to develop a vision and strategy for facing the challenges of the future. I’m also about to finish a PhD thesis on sustainable mobility in Europe.
As to my current private background – in the fall of 2010, Henning and I moved to the bustling city of Cologne, the 4th largest city of Germany, located in the west on the Rhine river, and we love it here! And I’m pregnant, due with our first child, a boy, in May! While we’re preparing our home for our baby, we are also preparing our minds for raising it in liberty and love without the spiritual (and other) limitations of institutionalized religion.
A year ago I would not have guessed I would ever be an Ex-Mormon, especially not so soon. I believed most of what was preached, I felt comfortable at Church, we belonged to a nice ward, and had (and have) wonderful friends and family in the Church, so I had no intention of leaving the Church. The doctrinal issues that bothered me were put on a shelf and never made me question the “restored truth”. Among these were:
* Why does the Church hardly address important global issues (social disparities, poverty and hunger, organized crime, environmental destruction and climate change, global migration) and instead put so much effort into other, from a global perspective less important causes like homosexuality, pornography “addiction”, and the moral decline of the youth? I’ve been involved in foresight and sustainability consulting for some years now and have a pretty clear overview of the major global challenges humanity faces. I could never figure out how a Church led by a modern prophet could be so silent on these pressing issues.
* Why were blacks denied the Priesthood until 1978? If it was due to “culture” (i.e. American racism) as it was claimed by some Church leaders, why wasn’t the Church ahead of its time? After all, Jesus Christ never cared for the traditions of his time but rather stuck to his (or God’s) principles.
* Why do we have to be loyal to our government? It’s easy to be loyal to any of the Western democratic governments, but having grown up in socialist Eastern Germany I know how hard (and courageous and important) it is not to be loyal to your political leaders. In an act of civil disobedience, my parents left Eastern Germany because it suppressed free press and opinion and many more civil rights. So I think there is a cause for civil disobedience!
* Why did the Church practice polygamy in its beginnings – and will we have to practice it again in eternal life? Already for a few years I was thinking: I would rather not “live together with Heavenly Father” than having to practice polygamy in eternity. Polygamy in my opinion is the worst form of family life as studies and eyewitness reports from around the world show. And why should only males be allowed to marry plural wives, not the other way round? This never made sense to me. Polygamy, in my eyes, is just outright disgusting, serving the sexual desires of men.
* Why does the Church stress formalities and outward appearance so much if God only “looks at our heart”? I always thought he probably won‘t care whether I attend Sunday service in jeans instead of a skirt. Actually, at the time I got to know the Church 15 years ago, I did not even own a skirt or dress, I always had to borrow one.
* Why can‘t women lead the Church and hold the Priesthood? Why is their role reduced to the auxiliary organizations and the home? I don’t want to belittle women’s role as mothers as I will be one myself very soon, but I think they should have more options than just wife and mother.
* Why is the Church so patriotic, especially U.S.-patriotic while I‘m living in Germany and couldn’t care less about the U.S. and its dominant, aggressive politics and lifestyle? It really upset me some years ago when in General Conference they prayed for the American soldiers in Iraq – why would they not pray for all soldiers there, even the Iraqi ones, or even better: why did nobody pray for peace? Prayers for peace are even institutionalised in other churches, and Christ is called the “King of Peace” – why were any references to global peace missing in Church leaders’ rhetorics?
* Why did the Republicans, especially during the second election of this warmongering criminal George W. Bush, always get the highest votes in Utah?
I hoped to find satisfying answers to these questions one day. Even though I figured that there probably might be one or two things wrong about the Church’s history and teachings I would have never thought that I would soon find out that there are HUNDREDS of such problematic issues. This still leaves me bewildered, and every time I find out something more it’s hard for me to take. I feel a little betrayed; however I’m aware of the fact that most members and even top Church leaders are probably not aware of these issues. Therefore, I don’t hold a grudge against them.
Henning had harboured similar doubts for some years, but while I could put mine on the shelf for most of the time, Henning at some point couldn‘t bear it anymore. Last summer came a point in his life where he had to find out and went to Church-related sources like FARMS and FAIR. What he stumbled upon led him to the decision to leave the Church for good. He told me on the day I found out I was pregnant which I thought was not a perfect point of time but I would understand later. Of course I was sad about his decision but I accepted it – because Henning was sincere about it and already then I realized how much happier he was because he could finally follow his own conscience. I just wasn‘t quite ready to follow his path because 1) besides being pregnant I also was finishing my PhD thesis and we were about to move to Cologne because I had found a new job there, all of which did not leave much time for deeper doctrinal inquiries and 2) I felt comfortable at Church despite my doubts. Yet I wanted to understand Henning’s concerns and to study some of the materials that had pulled him off the Church. A couple weeks later, I eventually found the time and nerves to study and ponder for myself. Even though I initially had no intention of leaving the Church the basis of my faith was shattered pretty quickly by what I read (as with Henning, most if it was on Church-related websites such as FAIR and FARMS!). I was shocked what I found out about Joseph Smith, polygamy, racism and the Masonic origin of the temple ceremony. The whole Church a big fraud? I felt so betrayed. How could I have been so wrong for so many years? (Through further studies I have found out that other denominations and “Gods” also seemed man-made – so now it does not shock me that much anymore.) I realized though that I did not have to blame myself because I had no idea of most of these disturbing facts – if I had known them before, I certainly would have left the Church much earlier. For example, had I known that the temple ceremony used to include cruel death oaths or resembles the Masonic ritual so closely I would have never attended the temple in the first place. Had I known that the Book of Mormon contains over 4000 corrections (most of them grammar/spelling related, but some of them also content related), contradicts later writings of Joseph Smith in several points and contains a vast number of untenable scientific contradictions (see http://www.utlm.org/newsletters/no107.htm) I would not have taken it for the word of God translated by Joseph Smith. It truly was not fun finding all these things out (and I‘m still shocked every time I find out more), yet it felt liberating.
You can imagine how relieved my husband was when I told him that I had come to the same conclusions. It became one of the happiest times in our marriage. And it laid a completely new foundation for our little family which we would be starting soon. I am so glad that I will never have to answer skeptical questions of my children regarding the Church to which I would either not have the answers or feel uncomfortable telling them. I will not have to raise them within a strict and tight worldview, and nobody, neither the Church nor we as parents, will expect them to become some “standardized” person which has to follow prescribed paths of obedience, service and “enduring to the end”.
When we stopped going to the Church, we did not immediately tell our family and closest friends which did not live in our ward (plus, we had just moved to a new town where nobody knew us anyway). We did not want to hurt anybody – even though we felt somehow hurt ourselves by all the lies and inconsistencies in the Church’s history and doctrine – and we did not want to lose cherished friendships or even break family ties. We carefully selected whom we would tell in which order and what to say or write (see our 24-page German “exit letter” for download below). Surprisingly, most took our decision very well! Nobody accused or condemned us even though, understandably, most were not happy about our decision. Ever since our decision which obviously was perceived as really well thought through has affected some members we know, even to the point that a few have come to the similar conclusions as we have. This was not our primary intention and still isn’t but we can’t say that we are not happy for those who come to face reality as we did and feel the liberating effect of it.
Faced with the reality about the Church, several reactions are possible. Denial and apologetic rhetorics are very common ones, but also retreat as a closet doubter. Becoming an overt Ex-Mormon certainly is not the easiest option and not everybody is able (or allowed) to take this “leap of faith” out of the Church, but it is certainly worth it and allows the individual to live up to his/her conscience. I hope that websites like this one and other internet resources will help others to “take a leap of faith” and make the transition into a new, wonderful world. I‘m grateful that we were given the opportunity to take this path out of the Church because it has held so much joy and liberty for us. For me, the benefits of being an Ex-Mormon include:
* Our marriage was strengthened. We can now freely talk about our doubts. I do not have to be concerned about my husband’s lack of commitment to the gospel, leadership qualities or faith. I’m not expecting him to make a typical “Church career” anymore. I’m grateful that he is so authentic and happy.
* I don’t have to defend the Church on issues that I’m not comfortable or familiar with myself, like polygamy, temples or racism.
* I don’t have to harmonize my opinions and attitudes with Church doctrine but with my conscience only. I don’t have to comply with the Church’s standardized role of women or people in general.
* I don’t have to be concerned about anybody’s salvation anymore and “preach” the gospel or be a good example. I can be a good example for its own sake, not for the Church or any other institution.
* I can invest my time and efforts into causes which are really important to me and, in my opinion, to the world. I always thought that the Church is missing out on some of the most important problems the world faces right now – climate change, environmental destruction, poverty and injustice, war and catastrophes – while putting disproportionate efforts into less important (or in my opinion even wrong) causes like genealogy, missionary work, and the fight against homosexuality and the supposed “moral decline” of society.
* I’m much less judgemental about people. I don’t divide them into members and non-members anymore.
* I don’t have to try to understand weird doctrines and rituals anymore. I will not have to explain them to my children.
* Because I don’t have the answers to all of life’s questions anymore I’m searching much more intensively and sincerely than before – and I’m not afraid of generating even more questions with the answers I find.
* I don’t have to adopt dichotomous (black or white) perspectives anymore. Nothing is either 100% good or 100% bad (not even the Church!).
* My husband and I enjoy having a long weekend every week now with two days of time off. This will be even more rewarding once our son is born. We can spend our time more freely, deciding which activities we want to do on which day of the week.
I’m grateful for the course my life has taken. Without the Church I would have never met my wonderful husband, and for most of the time, I had a fairly good time in the Church, got to know many wonderful, sincere people and became acquainted with Christ’s teachings which I still think to be very beneficial to mankind if applied correctly. But I know now that good people don’t make a Church or any other institution “true”. Even though I feel somewhat betrayed especially by the founders of the Church I’m not bitter but I’m grateful for the reflection process my transition into and out of Mormonism has initiated. Now I have de-institutionalized my spirituality and de-personalised my image of “God”, considering myself a believing agnostic – but my worldview may evolve further.
One of my favorite scriptures was and is “Prove ye all things and hold on to that which is good” in 1 Thess. 5:21. I can take a lot of good things from what I learned in Church and add to it by looking around me – all this without having to “harmonize” my new findings with Church doctrine each time. I feel closer to reality and life because the barrier of Church doctrine does not stand between me and reality anymore.
My name is Maria and I’m an Ex Mormon.
Maria und Hennings deutscher Ausstiegsbrief (24 S.) als PDF [English: To view Maria and Henning’s 24 page exit letter in German please click here]:
Links that helped us in our research and recovery:
* Historic documents and analyses of the LDS church: Utah Lighthouse Ministry (Sandra and Jerald Tanner)
* Ex-Mormon Scholars Testify http://www.exmormonscholarstestify.org/
* Website of Steven Hassan (religious cult expert and psychologist): http://freedomofmind.com/bite/
* “Why bad beliefs don’t die” by Gregory Lester: http://www.csicop.org/si/show/why_bad_beliefs_dont_die/
* MormonThink http://mormonthink.com/
* German: Mormonismus Online http://www.mormonismus-online.de/
* Sam Keen – An inquiring philosopher http://samkeen.com/
* Really good video series on Theism and Atheism: http://www.youtube.com/user/Evid3nc3#p/c/A0C3C1D163BE880A/2/12rP8ybp13s
tags: church, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, deconversion, Ex Mormon, exmormon, Germany, God, Henning, Latter-day Saints, LDS, Maria, Missionary, Mormon, Mormon missionary, Religion, Schnurr