Camping at the Periphery

Poor Wayfaring Man

I was born and raised a Mormon, in the LDS Church. At 19 years of age, I volunteered to be a missionary for the Church and was sent to a foreign country to spread the Gospel for two years. Upon returning home, I was fully committed to Mormonism. I believed that its doctrines were literally heaven-sent, and that it was the one pure source of philosophical, spiritual, religious, and even secular Truth in this world. I liked Mormon social institutions and the support they provided me as I followed the path of Truth. I felt lucky to have been born a Mormon.

I attended Brigham Young University, and within a few of years of fairly intense study there, I found that current LDS beliefs and practices didn’t match up with past LDS beliefs and practices, and that both the present and the past Church left much to be desired as God’s beacon of Truth, wisdom, and enlightenment. I graduated from “the Lord’s University” with a BA, a pregnant wife, a kid, and very little religious faith in Mormonism. I tried hard to find an explanation for the state of the LDS Church that could reassure me that God was involved somehow in running the show, but reassurance never came. I dealt with my severe disappointment by resolving to not take Mormonism so seriously, and to focus on the good that the LDS Church was about as a social institution, rather than its Truth, which I found had a tendency to crumble under scrutiny.

In spring of 2003, after I graduated from BYU, I listened to an address delivered by LDS Church Apostle Jeffery R. Holland, titled A Prayer for the Children. In it, he said:

I speak carefully and lovingly to any of the adults of the Church, parents or otherwise, who may be given to cynicism or skepticism, who in matters of whole-souled devotion always seem to hang back a little, who at the Church’s doctrinal campsite always like to pitch their tents out on the periphery of religious faith. To all such—whom we do love and wish were more comfortable camping nearer to us—I say, please be aware that the full price to be paid for such a stance does not always come due in your lifetime. No, sadly, some elements of this can be a kind of profligate national debt, with payments coming out of your children’s and grandchildren’s pockets in far more expensive ways than you ever intended it to be.

As friendly and gentle as Holland tried to make his words sound, the curse (or threat) they carried rang harshly in my ears. He was telling me that I must exchange my reticent skepticism and critical thinking for an outward show of “whole-souled devotion” to the LDS Church, or there would be hell to pay. I almost laughed when, a moment later, he declared that in the process of learning about the Gospel, “there is no place for coercion or manipulation, no place for intimidation or hypocrisy.” (Coulda fooled me, Jeffrey!) Over the course of his talk, Holland’s clear expectation of conformity at all costs marked the first (and not the last) time the rhetoric of an LDS Church leader rubbed me the wrong way. I was sincere in my skepticism; I had good reason for it. This Apostle was asking me to be insincere about my beliefs with my own children.

Hearing that manipulative pap from a man who was supposedly one of Jesus Christ’s key representatives on Earth was a monumental experience for me. It marked the moment that I realized there may no longer be a place for me at the LDS campfire, and I decided then to embrace my skepticism and critical thinking and set up camp at the periphery of Mormonism. And here I have remained, a poor wayfaring man of sorts, not really welcome in my own culture.

Who am I?

You might actually know me. I may have been an anonymous member of your ward, trying my best to blend into the background, biting my tongue in Sunday School, or maybe even serving in a bishopric. Don’t worry, even if I do happen to be living in your ward, I generally steer clear of the whole-souled devotees now. All of the inauthenticity I’m required to hide behind at church has made the LDS Sunday experience very tedious for me, so I prefer not to participate. But my wife and children still go to LDS Church meetings nearly every Sunday, and that keeps Mormonism on my mind.

You will probably hear more from me.


2 Responses to “Camping at the Periphery”

  • Mormon Woman Wondering Says:

    You and I are in the same position. Please help me understand how you a) bore the gut-hole created by losing your faith; and b) speak with your children, with integrity to your beliefs and with sensitivity to their need for something to hold onto in this world. I like your site. It is helpful to me, or as helpful as anything has proven to be so far. Thanks.

  • Poor Wayfaring Man Says:


    I’ve answered your questions here and here.


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