Highlight text to annotate itX
(gentle guitar music)
John: Hello and welcome to another edition
of Mormon Stories podcast.
I'm your host John Dehlin
and as always I'm super excited to have
a special guest with me today.
Today we're recording this in Salt Lake City,
kind of downtown.
We have seven people who are here watching.
You can't see them, but I'm happy to have
a bit of an audience here.
We're here to interview Jeremy Runnells.
We're going to get into his story, but some
of you may have heard of the Letter to
a CES Director.
cesletter.com, I think is the website.
The short story just to hook you into
the interview is that Jeremy was struggling
with his testimony, lived a very traditional,
devout LDS life until the point where he
started having questions and eventually his
grandfather found out about this and offered
for Jeremy to write a letter to a CES director
friend of his grandfather.
He wrote the letter.
The letter was received but was never
responded to, but it was such a good
letter I guess he got good feedback
from it that he has kind of expounded
upon it and published it to a webpage
and it definitely has been a phenomenon
sweeping intellectual Mormonism.
It's impacted a lot of people.
So, we're going to talk about it today.
This is part of a multi-part series.
So, after we're done with this interview
I've invited Brad Kramer who I've
interviewed a few sessions ago who is
a faithful sort of scholar.
He's going to sort of defend the believing
positions, and I've invited
J. Nelson-Seawright who is a professor
at Northwestern University and he's a
nonbeliever and they're good friends.
They're going to have kind of a very
gentlemanly discussion about Letter to a CES
Director pros and cons and perspectives
So, this is a long series, but I'm loving
every minute of it.
So, without any further ado
Jeremy Runnells welcome to Mormon Stories.
Jeremy: Thank you for having me.
John: So, before we begin, Jeremy, you
Why don't you talk to us about that
for just a second.
I'm actually deaf in both ears,
and I hear through what is called a
It might be better to explain through
So, just watch this video and it will
just go over how Cochlear Implants work.
John: Really quick...
Were you born deaf?
Jeremy: I was born hearing and when I
was about three or four years old I was
diagnosed with hearing loss.
At first it was mild hearing loss and then
over the course of 20 years it just
progressively got worse.
In the course of 20 years I wore hearing aids,
and when I was about 24 years old after
I came home from my mission I got my first
Cochlear Implant in my left ear,
and about seven years later I got my second
Cochlear Implant and it just totally
changed my life.
Well, let's just jump in then.
Tell us just briefly about your early experiences
with the church.
Were they positive?
Tell us about the level of testimony you
obtained before it started unraveling and
just high level any positive experiences
you've had with the church to sort of
tell us to what extent you were committed
and believing before things started
I was born into a faithful home.
My parents were married in the
Salt Lake City Temple.
I was born in Whittier, California,
and throughout my life I lived in different
cities in southern California.
My parents were strong-believing Mormons.
I come from a pioneer heritage.
I have family all the way back to Nauvoo.
They traveled the plains to Utah.
I always believed in the church.
I just grew up Mormon.
I did the whole nine yards.
I was baptized when I was eight years old.
John: Where were you growing up in the church?
Jeremy: This is in southern California.
John: Okay. In the Whittier area.
Jeremy: Orange County, parts of Los Angeles.
Jeremy: So, yeah, I went to church my entire life.
I was baptized when I was eight years old
by my dad. My parents were divorced
when I was three or four years old.
So, that had a really profound impact on my life
and on the life of my brothers and my family.
That's an interesting situation right there.
My parents as they were going through
their divorce it kind of got hairy
in the courts and so somehow, I'm not sure
if my dad proposed the idea or the Bishop
came to them, but it was proposed that instead
of the judge in the court deciding which
kid goes with who, we would have
the Bishop do it.
Jeremy: Yeah, and so it wasn't like
this Bishop was a judge or a social worker
He was a financial planner so...sounds qualified. (laughs)
But at the time that shows you how
strong my parents believed.
Maybe this man has inspiration.
He would know what God would want
for our family.
So, from what I understand, the Bishop
decided me and my oldest brother would
go with my dad and my other brother
would go with my mom.
That was pretty devastating to my mom
from what I understand it created a pretty
crazy situation over there.
I mean, word spread around in the Ward,
in the Stakes in that area.
From what I understand, it was mostly
negative because they just couldn't
believe how a Bishop would decide this.
A lot of people felt that it should have
been the courts.
I'm not sure of all the details.
That's my understanding, but I just wanted
to bring that up just to illustrate how strong
my family believed in Mormonism.
It started that I lived with my dad my
I had a great childhood.
Both my parents love me and it was great.
After my parents divorced my dad remarried,
and that was an interesting situation
because my dad had four kids and the new
woman that he married had four kids.
So, it was a Brady Bunch situation.
That marriage lasted about six years.
After that we moved over to La Mirada,
California and I would say that's where
my testimony really took off.
I went to church my entire life.
I was baptized when I was eight,
but I didn't really know what I was going
to church for.
I didn't really understand The Restoration
and Joseph Smith and what the church
really stood for. So, when I was about 12
years old I was ordained a Deacon and
this was around the time when interesting
For the first time in my life there was
a death in my family.
So, I as a 13/14 year old that really
It was just my Grandpa.
I never really experienced death or
the concept of death.
I'd seen Rambo, whatever, TV shows and movies,
but this was for the first time in my life
somebody that I actually knew one day
was there and the next day he was gone.
That had a profound impact on me.
This happened on September 17th, 1994.
Then another powerful event in my life
happened about a week later.
My dad arranged with our Stake President
to meet with the Area Authority at the time,
Elder Lance B. Wickman, and we met with
him for me to get a hearing blessing.
And so, what we wanted to do is -
Basically, we went to him to see if he could
restore my hearing because as a
teenager it was a tough situation not being
able to hear very well in my circle
of friends and school.
It was a tough situation.
I really believed all the stories I'd read
and heard in church about Christ healing
the deaf and the lame and the blind and
I really believed in the concept that the church
was restored in these latter days and
the priesthood was real and if
it worked then why can't it work now?
So, we met with the Stake President...me, my dad, and the Stake
President went over to where Elder
Lance B. Wickman was at the time.
When we met Lance B. Wickman
something weird happened.
When I went up to him I shook his hand,
and I experienced this really powerful wave
Looking back I kind of compare it to kind of
getting hit in the face, that sense of shock,
But basically when I shook his hand I
just had this surreal feeling and from then on
in my life I identified that as the Spirit.
Basically, I met with this, you know, special servant
of the Lord, a member of the Seventy
and I just felt the Spirit.
He was very gracious, very kind.
The entire meeting was very spiritual.
He gave me a blessing that basically
stated that my ears would be unstopped
and my hearing would be restored.
So, it was pretty bold.
My dad was in tears. I was in tears.
It was just a very special day,
and I consider that one of the most
spiritual, special days of my life.
So, I had faith that my hearing was going
to be restored.
I mean, I was expecting next week to
put my hearing aids down.
I was expecting my hearing issues to
That was the kind of faith I had as a kid.
I really believed that what happened
that day with Elder Lance B. Wickman
that my hearing would be restored.
Well, that week went by and another week
went by and weeks turned into months
and years and my hearing just kept getting
worse and worse.
This kind of created a cognitive dissonance
in the sense that he told me that my hearing
would be restored and my ears would be
unstopped and my hearing's getting worse
I was just wondering what was going on.
Did I have enough faith?
I don't know.
Anyway, I did the whole thing,
Deacon, Teacher, Priest.
I was heavily involved in Boy Scouts.
I had a great experience in Boy Scouts.
I'm an Eagle Scout and I enjoyed the
Troop that I was in.
The Scout Masters were fantastic,
just great men.
The Ward that I was in was just fantastic.
I had awesome Bishops.
One of the Bishops was Hawaiian.
Every week, "Brothers and sisters, Aloha."
So, there was that sense of community
and sense of Ward family.
So, I had a great experience overall.
I went to EFY, Especially For Youth,
in Provo, Utah, and I had some
spiritual experiences there.
So, it was just a cummulative effect of
that day when I got my hearing blessing
and just the experiences that I've had
in my Ward family and EFY.
I read the Book of Mormon.
I read all I could about Joseph Smith.
I was very fascinated with Joseph Smith.
Because he was also similar to me in
the sense that he was about 13/14 when
he started having these questions about life.
In my case when my Grandpa died I just
wanted to understand what was going on.
Is there really a god?
Is this church that I'm going to, is it
So, I kind of identified with Joseph Smith
in that sense of having questions and
wanting to know about life.
So, just fast forwarding over to when I was in
I had a lot of good friends and a lot of
them were non-members.
One of them was my girlfriend.
I had a girlfriend in high school.
She was a non-member.
Her family were Presbyterian so that kind of
played into the -
You know, Joseph Smith his family was
I didn't understand Presbyterianism, but I
kept hearing about it in the history of
So, I was fascinated with that.
This family was just a wonderful family.
They had it together.
Mom and dad, the kids were well educated.
They just loved each other.
They also drank beer and wine
and it just caused me some kind of -
I was looking at this family,
this non-member family, drinking alcohol.
They were better in a lot of ways
than a lot of Mormon families that I've met.
So, I kind of wondered about that,
but I just kind of let it go.
I was called on a mission to
New York City to teach the deaf in
American Sign Language.
And this was in 2000 to 2002.
It was just a powerful experience.
I loved my mission.
It was just a mission like any other.
I had my ups and downs.
I had my awesome companions and I had
my crazy companions.
John: Did you know sign language
before your mission?
Jeremy: I did a little bit, but I didn't
really understand how to do it.
It really took off in the MTC.
John: Show us real quick how you would
bear your testimony in sign.
And talk as you say it.
I want to share my testimony that I know
the Church is true. I know the Book of Mormon
is true. I know that Joseph Smith is a true
That the Church is restored in the last days.
So, that was kind of the testimony that I shared
with deaf people on my mission.
My understanding of American Sign Language
really took off on my mission.
I had a great Mission President.
He was a nice man and on my mission I've had
some really amazing experiences in terms
of just the people that I've met and the places
that I've been.
Most of my mission has been in the South
Bronx and the whole island of Manhattan.
I've done things on my mission that I can't
believe I've done.
Like, we would sometimes take the stairs in
the projects, at 8:00 at night.
We were invincible.
We had the name tags.
"Jesus Christ". He's going to protect us.
We're on the Lord's errand, but just looking back
just some of the things we've done, going in
alleyways and the stairs. We were in places
that we really shouldn't have been.
We've had a situation where NYPD pulled over
and said, "Hey guys, you shouldn't be going there."
You know what I mean?
But we were invincible.
We're on the Lord's errand.
The NYPD they don't know what they're
So, it was just kind of funny, just the confidence
that I had as a missionary that I was really
on the Lord's errand.
We taught a lot of families.
I've had success as a missionary.
One powerful event on my mission was 9/11.
9/11 happened on my mission, just seeing
the before and after of that event...it just
blows my mind even to this day.
Just the kindness that people had on the
subways after that.
It was just very interesting the change as a whole
in that city.
Some of the families that I've taught they had
family members that were killed on 9/11.
Just seeing the impact that 9/11 had on them.
It was very up close and personal.
I mean I'm sure everybody else, they've seen 9/11
on the television.
I've seen it, you know -
John: Like you could see the smoke billowing?
Jeremy: Yeah, yeah.
John: From where you were as a missionary?
Jeremy: Yeah, seeing the first tower collapse.
I wasn't like right next to it.
At the time I was in the South Bronx,
but I could go on my roof and see it.
Kind of an interesting story is three weeks
before 9/11, my district, we went over to
the World Trade Center on a P-Day.
We just wanted to check things out.
One of the things that we wanted to do was
go up to the observation deck.
This was the end of the month when our
savings account was diminished because
usually missionaries account their savings
replenishes every first of the month.
So, anyway we went in to ask how
much it would cost to go up to the
observation deck and we were told $13.
To us that was a lot of money at the time.
We were like, "We'll come back later."
Three weeks later the whole thing
It's just unbelievable.
Those buildings were massive,
and it's just unbelievable that
three weeks later they were just
They were just in its own footprint.
That was my experience on my mission
in terms of something powerful, just seeing
the change in people, the change in the families
that we taught.
I had a great mission.
I asked to stay longer in my mission.
I could have gone home in June of 2002,
but I asked the Mission President if I
could stay another transfer.
So, I ended up going back home in August.
I was really a dedicated missionary.
I really believed in what I was doing,
teaching people about Joseph Smith and
The restored Gospel.
I came home and went to school.
I went to BYU and I had an overall
good experience in BYU.
Majored in Marketing. It was pretty
much uneventful. Just a normal BYU college education.
I really enjoyed my roommates.
I met my wife in my junior year.
We met in the Wilkinson Center at BYU.
Kind of funny.
It was a really Mormon courtship.
The Wilkinson Center at BYU and we
dated for probably four, five, six months
before I took her down the the Grand Canyon
and just gave her the ring and asked her
to marry me, and she said "yes."
We got married in the San Diego Temple.
That was also the Temple, kind of
going back, the San Diego Temple was where
I got my endowments.
A lot of people -
I've heard a lot of stories about people having
a terrifying experience going through the Temple
for the first time or a very uncomfortable
To me, it was a little bit weird, but it wasn't
I think part of the reason for that is I just...
you know, trusted family were there.
If they're cool with it then I should be
cool with it.
That was pretty much my Temple experience.
I was unable to go to the Temple on
The New York Temple was not yet there.
So, the closest Temple was the Boston Temple.
So, for two years no Temple experience.
My dad moved over to Las Vegas
during my mission.
So, when I came back home from my mission
it wasn't really home.
It was Las Vegas.
It was kind of an adjustment there, giving
a homecoming talk in a Ward that I've
never been in.
It was kind of a struggle at that time
being in this place I was unfamiliar with,
this Ward that I was unfamiliar with.
John: After being in kind of the same place
for so long and having so many church memories.
John: With your California community?
Jeremy: Yeah. Absolutely.
So, in some ways there was that kind of
struggle with the Wards that I'd been after
my mission trying to recapture that
sense of family that I had in California.
John: Kind of shows how much of maybe
what we perceive as testimony is really
socially connected. Right?
Jeremy: A big part of that.
Obviously, if I hate the Ward and it's
causing me misery then that would be
quite a big hurdle in order to keep
going to church.
So, the social aspect of the church,
the community aspect, is a major part of it.
But for me, I didn't consider myself a Social
I really did have a testimony.
I really believed in the First Vision in 1820
and the Book of Mormon, a literal history of
Christ's visit to the Americas.
I believed that Joseph Smith was a prophet.
That testimony is what grounded me especially
in some of the things that have happened
after my mission.
Some of the Wards that I didn't like,
the Singles Wards and all that.
So, to me, even though sometimes I didn't
like the Ward or I didn't really connect
with some people, I still went every week.
Because I was spiritually dedicated
to the church.
John: So, what led you to your starting
Jeremy: Fast forwarding about ten years to when I'm
30 years old.
I still had my testimony.
I was still going to church.
Still serving in callings.
What happened was online, on Facebook,
I was hearing some noises about -
John: What year?
Jeremy: This was 2012.
John: Two years ago?
John: Up until two years ago you're
total traditional believer.
John: Without serious doubts or concerns.
Jeremy: No. I mean I can't think of any -
I took everything literally.
I can't think of anything that -
You know some people they say they put
things on the shelf and then eventually
the shelf cracks.
I didn't really have a shelf.
John: It was all true.
Jeremy: Yeah, it was all true.
You know what I mean?
John: Okay. So, Facebook?
Jeremy: So, Facebook I was starting to hear
There was a blog here and there about
the church, kind of talking about...you know, Feminist Housewives
I was seeing all this stuff that I considered
unapproved popping up on Facebook.
One night I was reading the news online
and came across an article about
Marlin K. Jensen giving a Q&A at Utah
In that Q&A meeting he specifically stated -
Well, he was asked by someone in the audience
what his thoughts were regarding the drove
of members that are leaving the Church over
Google, over history.
His response was basically we're
experiencing an apostasy that we haven't
seen since Kirtland over history.
That shocked me.
It shocked me in the sense of -
You know what I'm sorry.
I need to go back a little bit.
Just before my mission, this was when
the internet was really coming out
and I was on AOL and stuff.
I wanted to be prepared for my mission
so I went online and looked up stuff
and I wanted to just kind of anticipate the
different questions I would be asked by
At the time the Church was true and
Confirmation Bias was in fourth gear.
I mean, the Church was true, what can I learn
to prove that or back that up.
So, I looked up stuff.
I came across some of the Tanners' stuff.
A lot of it was bizarre stuff.
Like Brigham Young says that men that
look like Quakers that live in the sun.
Men live on the moon, and just really weird
stuff that sounded so fake that I just didn't
I looked at everything in the context of
Mormons against the other Christians,
It was like, well, evangelicals say that we
believe in a different Jesus.
Well, no, we don't, because Book of Mormon,
this and that.
So, it was in that context.
It wasn't in the context of -
John: None of it being true.
Jeremy: Yeah. It wouldn't be like
secularists talking about the Church's history
using the Church's own sources.
It was more of those crazy Baptists that were -
That was my exposure, but I didn't come across
any of the polyandry stuff or the
Book of Abraham stuff or any of that stuff.
It was just really weird stuff.
Like some of the quotes that Brigham Young
Even that, I didn't put anything on my shelf because
I just quickly discredited it.
FAIR was awesome. FAIR was doing the
It's kind of funny now, looking back.
John: We'll get to FAIR.
Jeremy: So, fast forwarding back to that
It shocked me that people were leaving
over Church history.
I didn't understand why they were leaving
over Church history.
What is it specifically about Church history
that they're leaving over.
So, one of the things that popped up
was Joseph Smith's polygamy.
So, I pulled up Google and I typed in
Joseph Smith's polygamy, and I learned looking
through Wikipedia I learned that he had several -
He had like 34 wives, and I was like okay
that's kind of interesting.
I thought Brigham Young started polygamy.
Then when I got into the polyandry, you know,
Joseph Smith was married to other living men's
That really shook me.
That really shocked me.
John: Do you remember where you were
What website or book?
Jeremy: Yeah, the first time it was through
Then I went back into Google and started
looking some more and came across the
polygamy page on MormonThink.
Jeremy: A lot of people seem to have that
MormonThink has a lot of pages on the
MormonThink was unapproved.
I didn't know if the information was
reliable, but after looking at the polyandry
stuff I went over to the Book of Abraham
and started seeing what Joseph Smith,
what his translation was versus what
Egyptologists state what it really means.
That really shook me as well.
So basically, the polyandry and the Book
of Abraham were the two first things
that really shocked me.
So, I started looking on Amazon for different
books that I could look at.
One of them was Rough Stone Rolling.
I ordered that and I also ordered Mormon
Origins with Grant Palmer.
Got those books.
Started devouring them and looking through
John: That's an insider's view of -
Jeremy: Insider's view of Mormon origins.
Those two books blew my mind in the sense
of, for example, Richard Bushman is obviously
a faithful scholar in the Church, and this is
a book that was being sold in Deseret Book.
I remember this book at the BYU bookstore.
So, I knew that this was a credible book,
and it is a credible book.
When I came across some of the stuff in there,
he goes over the polyandry.
I started having these feelings of betrayal.
I wasn't the village idiot.
I read books. I read a lot of the approved books.
I just couldn't believe that I never heard
about the polyandry stuff, for example,
or that Joseph Smith was married to
You know what I mean?
It just really shocked me in that sense,
and knowing what I know now, that's the path
that a lot of members take.
It's not just being exposed to the information
but the feeling of betrayal in the sense of
why hasn't the Church told me this?
Why haven't I learned this before?
Why am I discovering this now at 30 and 31-years-old?
And if I've never heard of something as crazy
as Joseph Smith marrying other living men's
wives...what else don't I know about?
So, that question really took me on this crazy
path of research.
I became absolutely obsessed with
Joseph Smith, Church history and
the origins of the Church over the next year or two.
John: What were your main sources of study
Jeremy: It was Rough Stone Rolling.
I've looked at FAIR.
I've looked at MormonThink.
I relied a lot on FAIR because they were
in the front trenches of this.
I mean, Richard Bushman, it was more of a
scholarly, it wasn't really in the trenches
in terms of apologetics.
So, FAIR just made things worse in
the sense that I read about this, then I learn
something new and then that leads to
something else and it just created this thing
just kept going on.
I was learning this and this and that and this.
I don't know.
I mentioned in my Debunking FAIR's Debunking
that I really looked to FAIR as a lifeline
during my faith crisis and it ended up being
weights that drowned whatever left I had
of a testimony.
So, yeah...that year, it was a struggle.
John: So, that's 2012 to 2013?
Jeremy: Yeah, so my faith crisis started
in February 2012 and then just to give you
an idea, I published the CES Letter in
John: Real quick.
Did you listen to Mormon Stories during that time?
Jeremy: I did, actually.
Mormon Stories was really something that
made the landing softer.
It gave me hope that things would be okay,
that there was light at the end of the tunnel,
that this was a process.
It really explained or put into perspective
that what I was going through was normal
in the sense that there's cycles of grief.
There's a process of learning about the
things I've never knew about in Church.
But all the different podcasts that I've listen to,
I actually went to the Salt Lake Mormon
I think it was June or July of 2012.
In, I think it was, a Presbyterian church.
So, that was a pretty powerful event
just listening to the different stories.
Listening to Andrew Ainsworth.
Just listening to his story, it was very
powerful, listening to the different
"testimonies," the different experiences
Just seeing the people in that church.
They weren't these boogeymen, scary
They were just people.
They looked like me.
They were just people that had different
So, thank you for your work in Mormon
It really had a profound impact on me during my
John: But we're not to blame?
You probably get a lot of flack that you're
taking people out of the Church, but
in my case it wasn't that.
It was the opposite.
You actually helped me become a better
I wasn't as angry, if that makes sense.
The alternative was going to
exmormon.org or whatever it is and
getting riled up, but with you, you try
to show both faithful and ex-Mormon
perspectives so it just really gave me a 180
view of things.
John: So, tell us about what led to the CES Letter.
I guess my first question is did you attempt
to do anything online or publish anything
prior to the CES Letter?
I saw this letter that's attributed to you
to Elder Wickman.
Jeremy: No. It's actually an open letter
to Elder Cook.
John: Elder Cook, that's what I meant.
So, that's interesting.
John: Was that your first time to
publish something public?
Jeremy: Yeah, I mean it was more of I just
put it on Reddit.
I didn't think too much about it.
I actually put it on Facebook for an hour
before my wife asked me to put it down.
John: When would that have been about?
What month and year?
Jeremy: That was in October of 2012.
You have to remember my faith crisis happened
in February 2012 and then by that summer of 2012
I was like, "I don't believe in this anymore."
So, this happened in October of 2012 so
I no longer had a testimony at that time.
Somebody put an original version of this and
I thought it was so cool that I kind of
borrowed it and revised a paragraph here and
there and then I just put it on Reddit.
But basically it relates to Elder Cook's General
Conference Address in October 2012 where
he was basically talking about if you go
and look at sources online.
I can't remember exactly what the quote is
exactly, but it was basically to the effect
that if you look into unapproved sources
you're going to risk your testimony and if
that's the case to repent.
So, I wanted to illustrate that you don't
have to go to the Tanners' website or some
other anti-Mormon web site.
A lot of this stuff is in LDS sources.
So, the rock in the hat Book of Mormon
translation, you know, Elder Nelson talks about it in his
1993 July Ensign.
It's right there.
The general discourses with Adam-God
and all that.
So, I wanted to illustrate how even looking
at the Church's own sources can put
a wrench into your testimony because when
you see this stuff you see how it's not
correlating or aligning with the correlative
version that you're getting from the Church.
John: It's almost all Church -
It's either Church published materials or
like Joseph's diary or diaries of people that we
I mean, what are the other sources?
It's not like people are looking at the
Hurlbut affidavits and that's like where they're
basing their disaffection on.
It's always like general discourses, the Book
of Mormon text itself.
Comparing Book of Commandments to
the early versions of the Doctrine
of the Covenants.
Like, what's anti-Mormon about that?
Jeremy: Yeah, exactly.
John: Joseph's own accounts of the First Vision.
Jeremy: Yeah, exactly and that was pretty
much the point that I was trying to make
in this satire.
I was kinda being...um, I was being sarcastic in that letter.
John: It reads a little bit angry,
to be honest with you.
Jeremy: Well, of course.
I was pissed off. You know?
And anybody that tells you that when
you leave the Church that you should just
leave it alone and don't be angry,
don't be the angry apostate.
They don't understand the trauma and
the process of leaving.
There's no such thing as a graceful
exit from the Church.
There's no, you know, "Thank you for your time and (laughs)
your two years, we appreciate it.
We wish you the best."
John: 30 years, 40 years.
Jeremy: Yeah. "Thank you for the two years
in the mission field. We love you, we wish
you the best" or whatever.
There's no such thing.
You left because you want to sin
or you were lazy or you never had a
I've been told I never had a testimony.
I had a testimony.
I loved this Church.
It was my worldview.
It was the way I looked at life.
It was my heritage.
I loved the people.
So, this nonsense of I "never had a testimony"
So, anyway, so I wrote that satire and
looking back at it now...it was just -
I don't see anything wrong with it, to be honest,
other than it's sarcastic and maybe has a little
angry tone, but what I was trying to illustrate
in that was I disagree with Elder Cook's
perception of the situation.
John: So, any false starts or attempts
at doing something public other than that letter
before the CES Letter?
Jeremy: No. I mean I was becoming
more and more active on Reddit.
John: In the ex-Mormon sub Reddit?
Jeremy: It was just a comment here and there.
Maybe a post.
John: Okay. Let's talk about how the letter
Jeremy: So, I couldn't bring myself to
tell my grandpa, my 85-year-old ... or
83 at the time grandpa that I no longer
believed in the church.
I love that man. I just love that man.
He lived Mormonism his whole life.
He and my grandma just wonderful people.
They lived Mormonism for a long time
and they lived in Hawaii for 40 years.
People have asked what would it take
for me to go back to the church.
If I moved to Hawaii I would go to church.
The people there, I mean the aloha
spirit there just unbelievable.
The community is just unbelievable.
To me, it's a different church over there.
I couldn't tell my grandpa about my disaffection
and what happened.
A few other family members knew.
My dad knew and I guess it got to a point
where the rumors were going around so
my dad told my grandpa that I no longer
believed in the church or I lost my testimony.
I think it was maybe just before Christmas
he found out, somewhere around there.
In 2013, he actually drove up to my place
about a 600 mile roundtrip just to come up
and talk to me and see what's up and how
he can help.
We just had a conversation and to me
it was a tough conversation.
How do you tell somebody, okay I don't
believe because of this and that and this
You don't want to put that on them.
I didn't want to put it on my grandpa at his age.
Anyway, but we had a good visit.
He went back home and a few weeks later
I received a phone call from him asking
if I would be willing to meet with his friend
who was a CES Director just to see if I could
get my concerns resolved and whatever
questions I had.
I said sure, even though I lost my testimony
at the time I still wasn't 100% sure that
the church was false.
I still accepted the possibility that my
understanding of history and Joseph
Smith and origins was incomplete or
inaccurate and that perhaps there was a perception
or answers that the CES Director could provide.
Also this was at the time before the church
released its essays.
This was before I ever heard of the
Swedish Fireside Rescue.
So, there was really not very much official
answers from the church.
So, to me, this was an opportunity to get
as close to official answers from the church
that I could.
Because this is somebody that works
for the church.
He's in the Church Education System.
So I said, "Sure, Grandpa, I'll talk to him."
So, my grandpa forwarded him my information
and I was surprised the CES Director actually
A very nice guy.
He's just trying to help my grandpa and I.
I have no beef with him.
I honestly don't blame him for not
responding back to me.
He was probably expecting five questions
in an e-mail and I throw him close to a 77-80 pages
John: Okay, okay, so let's talk about that
for a second.
So, a lot of the criticisms that you've received
come from two angles.
One is that they weren't sincere.
That you really had already made your mind
up before you wrote the letter.
Is that true?
Jeremy: Well, I mean, obviously I didn't lose
my testimony or leave the church.
You know what I mean?
I did my research and I trusted the research
enough to where I stopped believing in the church,
but I was sincere in that I accepted a
possibility that my research could be wrong.
My sources could be wrong and that
he might have a perspective or a view of
the situation that I would never have
In that sense I am sincere.
I'm up front in the letter that I didn't believe
at the time.
If you read page five of the letter you can
clearly see I'm a disaffected member,
I'm just going to lay it out.
So, I set it up.
I said I'm just going to lay it out, where
I'm at with things.
So, in that sense that's kind of where
I lay it out.
So, some of the stuff in my CES Letter
obviously look like conclusions rather than
Jeremy: So, that's where it comes from.
And I was up front with the CES Director
John: The other one is that you wrote that
with the internet in mind.
That it was just kind of premeditated,
kind of theater.
Like I'm writing this for the internet,
but I'll go ahead and send it to the guy
John: Just to have a good story
to support what you end up publishing.
Jeremy: At the time the only people
that I had in mind was the CES Director,
my family, because obviously my family was
involved, and a few people on Reddit that
I was going to get their feedback, make
sure that my sources are okay and
just general editing on my paper.
In my mind, it was just the CES Director
and my family for the most part because
I saw this as an opportunity to not only get
official answers but also to explain my
train of thought and what happened, explaining
why I left the church or stopped believing
in the church.
John: Isn't there a strong desire to tell
people and explain?
You referred to it earlier, "Everybody judges
you. Everybody looks down on you."
I had a member of a very prestigious LDS
family come visit me the other day.
You would all know the name.
He's no longer a believer and what he said
to me was, and I hate to use the word "cult".
I'll just say that now. I hate to use
the word "cult".
I know it's kind of really disrespectful,
but the quote really stuck with me.
He said, "A cult is any organization
that will not let you leave it with your
So, a cult is an organization that won't
let you leave it with your dignity intact.
That goes back to what you were saying about
are you sinning, are you looking at ***,
are you cheating on somebody?
You never had a testimony to begin with.
You're never like, "Oh he left and he's happy."
It's more like, "Oh, he's dark and sinning and
oh, he drinks coffee."
I'm just -
I shouldn't be speaking but really you
just want to be able to explain to people.
You want to say, "No, no, no. There
are credible reasons that people leave, and I've
actually done a lot of thinking and I've put a lot
of time into this."
John: Is that what you were thinking?
Jeremy: There are very few people on this
planet that I respect and love more
than my grandpa and my dad.
To have them be disappointed in me,
it just it bothered me a lot.
So, I wanted to be understood.
I wanted to make sure that they understood
that I didn't leave because I want
to go to the strip club.
I left because I came across very
disturbing information about the church
I never heard before.
And I don't think a lot of true believing
Mormons understand that.
They don't understand that desire
to be understood.
I hate that saying, "They can leave
the church, but they can't leave it alone."
John Larson talked about it in Mormon
Expression, one of his podcasts.
I can't remember which one, but basically
it was to the effect that you live this religion
for 30-35 years, you put all this time into it,
all this money into it, you really believe it,
it's your worldview and then poof it's gone.
And what kind of weird psycho would -
John: Just move on.
Jeremy: Just, "Oh, okay. What's next?"
You know what I mean?
Jeremy: What kind of weird psycho would do that?
It doesn't make -
You know what I mean?
We're still human beings after we leave.
We want to be understood.
We still have family that are in
and here's the other thing that a lot of
true believing Mormons don't understand
is that the family members within
are most often seeing the people that
leave as the broken ones, the ones that need
help, the ones that need to be rescued.
The ones that need to be pulled back
into the church, the ones whose testimonies
need to be restored, the broken ones.
They don't understand that the disaffected one,
they feel like they can't have a true relationship.
There's always that 800-pound gorilla
in the room.
In an attempt to bring that relationship
back to where it was before they left the church
they're trying to educate their family members
on the reason why they left.
So, at the core of it is to be understood
and to restore or repair their relationships
with their family members and they see it as
the church is getting in the way of that
with its fundamentalist, black and white
You know what I mean?
John: Okay. So, you write, and why make it
I mean, for the CES Director?
Jeremy: Well, because to me, it wasn't just
"Okay, the Book of Abraham has got
To me, I look at each individual issue and
then I take a step back and say "Look..."
I don't just look at a tree here and there.
I look at the trees individually and I take a step
back and I look at the forest and I say,
"Is this really the forest? The one and only
true forest on the face of the earth?"
It doesn't look like it's God's work.
It looks like one clumsy hoax.
So, what I wanted to illustrate, for example,
the Kinderhook Plates. Joseph Smith
might have made a mistake or whatever.
Before that I wanted to illustrate Joseph
So, when I went over the polygamy and the
polyandry stuff I went over how Joseph
Smith had this pattern of behavior over the
course of 10 years of his life where he was
hiding and denying polygamy and polyandry.
Not just from Emma, not just from the
Saints, but from the world.
He's giving interviews to newspapers.
The Doctrine and Covenants has officially
banned polygamy and put, you know, "We believe in
In the affidavit he put out in the Times
He was so concerned about the rumors
circulating in Nauvoo about his polygamy
and polyandry that he set up this affidavit
with 31 people, and the signers of the affidavit
included his plural wife and several other
of his buddies that knew about his polygamy.
I mean, Eliza Snow was one of his plural
wives that he married three months earlier.
She signed it.
Bishop Whitney and his wife were witnesses
to one of the ceremonies.
I think it was Sarah Whitney, a couple of months earlier.
So, you look at that and you say,
"Well, his pattern of behavior, his modus
operandi for 10 years of his life was to
hide stuff, to be a deceptive, to be dishonest."
So, when you get that snapshot of
his character and you start looking into
the Book of Abraham and the Priesthood
Restoration and the backdating of it
into the scriptures.
John: Yeah, we'll get to that.
I hear you.
With the PhD I've been working on
I admittedly have not had time to study
a lot of these things as closely as I would like.
So, obviously through the podcast I've heard
about the First Vision stuff.
I've heard about the translation stuff.
It's very, very different when you start
lining up the timelines.
It's one thing to know that the First Vision
It's another thing then to realize that what Joseph
believed about God, his trinitarian view about
God when the Book of Mormon was published
is different than what he ends up with in
Nauvoo, and then when you line up
The Book of Mormon with his beliefs in 1830
and it supports the trinitarian view, and then
you learn that they may change it to the
Book of Mormon to reflect the non-trinitarian view
later and you see the changes in the
Book of Commandments versus the
Doctrines and Covenants and then he develops
his high Nauvoo theology.
Those timelines across multiple issues all
start lining up and it becomes -
So, that's why you wrote a 70+ page -
Jeremy: Yeah, because if I didn't write a
comprehensive overview it would just be like
"Oh, that's just one issue and the church is
true, mistakes were made."
But when you start to look at it all,
the modus operandi, the deception.
Then you look at the Book of Abraham,
then you look at the Kinderhook Plates, you just
see this pattern, the Book of Mormon.
You see this pattern of...I'll just say it,
So, you write this letter, you send it to the
CES Director through email?
Jeremy: Through e-mail, yeah.
Jeremy: I attached the PDF.
John: Did you ever meet the guy in person?
John: Okay, and what response did
Jeremy: Well, he didn't respond to me
directly in email, but he told my
grandpa that he read the "very well
written letter" and that he would
provide a response.
He also said a few other things that the
Brethren are aware of some of these problems.
Whatever that means.
John: I hope they are.
Jeremy: I hope they are, yeah.
John: They are now.
Jeremy: They better be by now.
And...(chuckles) and they were aware of this and
my understanding is that he forwarded the
letter to some of his colleagues that
knew more about history.
So, I was anticipating to hearing back
John: You sent the letter what month of what year?
Jeremy: So, that was in April of 2013.
Jeremy: So, I sent it -
John: So, about a year ago.
Jeremy: Yeah, a year ago.
John: Did you send it on April 6th
just to be funny?
Jeremy: No. April 23rd or whatever it was.
John: Okay. All right. Okay, so about a year ago.
And then you waited.
Jeremy: I waited.
A month passed, two months passed and
then three months passed and I started,
"Mmm, I'm probably not going to hear back."
At that time as I mentioned I had put my
letter on Reddit for feedback and for people
John: You put this letter?
Jeremy: This letter.
In early April before I sent it out.
So, a couple of people really ate it up,
I guess. They liked it.
John: Did you crowdsource the original
version where other people were
giving you information and studying with you?
Was it a team effort?
Jeremy: No, I just wrote it up and I just
put it up and said, "What do you guys think?"
John: So, the original version is all you?
John: All your study and writing?
Jeremy: I didn't get a lot of criticism.
I just got, "Wow, this is kind of cool
that you made it all comprehensive."
So, it kinda just spread it around,
got viral a little bit and it ended up
getting into the hands of MormonThink,
Tom Phillips and he really liked it.
He emailed me.
He said, "This is great.
Let's put this up."
I said, "Cool."
So, we put it up and then it really blew up
John: Okay, so when did it get put up,
Jeremy: I don't know. Around that time
in late April. Somewhere around there.
Well, that's not a long.
You didn't wait three months to publish it online.
Jeremy: No, remember I didn't -
It went viral.
Some of the people on Reddit that were
checking it, they spread it around.
Then it got into the hands of MormonThink.
John: Okay. So, how much time did you spend
thinking about, "Do I really want to be
a named dissident across the world regarding
Jeremy: I didn't think like that.
I didn't realize this was going
to blow up.
I just thought it was just a letter and it
would just eventually fade, but when
it started getting on MormonThink and I
started getting emails and then more emails
and then more emails. I'm like, "Um, okay,
this is starting to -
What did I do?"
For a while I was kind of concerned.
I don't want to be this guy that's
tearing down the church or anything like that.
But when I started getting the emails
Just hearing from people like, "I really struggled
with this and then I came across the CES Letter
and then things just snapped for me.
It just made sense.
I got it because I kept looking at
these individual issues."
I think what appeals to a lot of people
with the CES Letter is I don't focus on
the different issues on its own I take
a step back and then I tie them up to show
how they're all connected and the big
picture of things and I think that's something
that was missing for -
John: Yeah, why do we need a Letter
to a CES director? Why not just
How did you think of the letter as
being different than MormonThink?
Or the FAIR website?
Jeremy: I don't know.
MormonThink did a great job going
over all the individual issues.
I used it during my faith crisis.
John: Did it help you write the letter?
Jeremy: Well, yeah, I mean, there were
some things I got from there.
But, it wasn't just MormonThink.
It was Rough Stone Rolling.
It was the Insider's View of Mormon
Some of Leonard Arrington's stuff.
It was different sources.
It wasn't just like I copied
It was Rough Stone Rolling and
different things here and there.
John: So, were you worried about
putting up your own website?
When did your own website go up?
Jeremy: Well, what happened was
I kept getting people asking me on Reddit,
"Where can I download this letter
I've heard about? Where can I download
So, I just put up this really simple one-
page website that had a PDF icon.
A Letter to a CES Director.
Why I Lost My Testimony.
That was just my web site for seven months
And then what happened, what really
changed things was when FAIR started
getting into the picture and started
doing their analysis of the letter.
This happened in the summer of 2013.
John: Let's save that.
John: Is that all right?
John: Okay. So, I'm going to transition just
a tiny bit and we're going to dig into
some of the main issues that are covered
in the letter.
(gentle guitar music)