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“I’ve learned that the schlub can finish first. And that lying can be beneficial, which I’ve been telling my wife for years.Josh Gad, Elder Cunningham in Book of Mormon.

I tend to default to taking people at their word, but there are times when I can’t. There’s a groundswell of unspoken values in our world that say lying is OK as long as everything turns out alright in the end. In fact, if there’s one thing I don’t like about the Book of Mormon musical, I’d say it is that it dismisses the foolishness in lying and actually honors it.

I found a podcast of some folks who lied to Mormon missionaries about their interest in the religion.  They even went so far as to be baptized…but it was all just a stunt. That particular lie to me is just as bad as the lies that keeps Mormons believing in it.

Recently I’ve been catching my 13 year old son in little white lies and I question whether or not to call him out on them.

  • We were sharing a day at Disneyland with another family, whose parents are friends of mine, waiting in a long line.  They have a 17 year old daughter… cute and friendly. She and my son were chatting it up and I overheard her asking him if he played sports. He doesn’t.  He said, “Yes” and proceeded to list off the sports he “plays”. This time I was smart enough to NOT call him out on it.
  • Just last night we were all at the dinner table eating shrimp and pasta.  He was full and didn’t want his last shrimp, so I told him to put it on my plate (Eating my kids’ leftover food is a bad habit I really need to break, I know). So, he threw it at me. I’ve been on his case all Summer about not throwing things…but he did it anyway. So, after the piece of shrimp went flying past me and fell 3 feet behind me on the carpet I got on his case. And he actually said, “I didn’t throw it!”
  • At the mall with my son under the guise of spending time alone with me he took me to a video game store. I realized that was his intention all along when he asked for a certain video game which is rated for users over his current age. As I was reading the box to find out what sort of content caused the higher rating he added this little gem, “But don’t tell Mom.  She’ll just freak out.” He and I apparently both agree that his mother is a little to prone to “freaking out.” The concern for me at that moment quickly became his intention from the get-go to lie about it. Not cool… and this time I told him so.

Nobody knows better than I do how to present a false self to the world. But that also means that I know the dangers and the consequences. As I told my son, “if you are hiding the truth from someone, that usually means any combination of  things”:

  1. You are not completely comfortable in your skin, or with your choices and are trying to present a false image to others. You’re trying to present yourself as a jock to girls or as an obedient scripture reading peter-priesthood boy to your mother.  Usually the REAL you is much more attractive, admirable and comfortable.
  2. You are doing something unwise or unkind but you are unable to admit it and own it.
  3. You’ve been lying because of reasons #1 or #2 for so long that it has just become a habit.

I used to be adept at lying and convincing myself that it was a good thing.  I’m probably now oversensitive to this type of lying precisely because I’ve experienced the devastating damage that such deception can do to self and others. In my case it led to a less-than-stellar marriage, crushed dreams and four children who ultimately are torn in a divorce and long distances (literally and figuratively) between parents.

Of course, I was taught to tell the truth at home, at school and at church by those I respected most. In my young mind growing up, those institutions were paragons of truth telling.

Upon further reflection, however, what was modeled for me and expected from me was NOT always honesty and clarity. We may say we respect truth and even publicly denounce lying, but what do we actually do? The say-one-thing-but-do-another behavior seems to be a trickle down trait from organizations that fundamentally lack an understanding of human nature to the fundamental followers who obediently adopt an ends-justify-the-means modus operandi.

The Mormon Church, like any other religion, publicly discourages lying, but then its leaders clearly utilize it as a tool. Past and present church leaders are documented liars when speaking in an official capacity on touchy doctrinal subjects such as polygamy, godhood, blacks and the priesthood. That sort of deceitful behavior speaks much louder to members’ minds and they in turn mimic their leaders’ lying if they think the church’s image is at stake. But the crazy part is that they are totally convinced that they are not lying … because, you see, they must defend the church at all costs.

Mormons, including myself, do this instinctively. I remember in 1990 when the LDS temple ceremony, the endowment, was changed, shortened and softened. I was a strong, faithful and believing member at the time. Even then, I was baffled to hear my LDS sister and her husband brush off the changes as “insignificant.”

Huh? Insignificant? Really?

For those of you who are uninitiated, when I first did this ceremony back in the mid-eighties I pantomimed my own death 3 separate ways as an integral part of the ceremony! In 1990 they removed those death oaths or penalties and rewrote a bumbling protestant preacher, who was a tool of Satan, out of the passion play. How is that insignificant?

Coming out to LDS family and friends I encountered the same sort of deceitful defenses…

“No LDS leaders ever encouraged homosexuals to marry.”

“The LDS Church doesn’t teach that Native Americans are the Lamanites.”

“There have never been racist policies in the LDS Church”

“The Book of Mormon doesn’t claim that the Hebrew settlers were the only ones to inhabit this land.”

“Mormons don’t believe in polygamy anymore.”

And I even got this once…

“The LDS Church doesn’t claim it is the only true church.”

But even worse is not being taken at your word. I consider the following arrogant responses to be deceitful as well because they inherently claim to know something that they couldn’t possibly know:

“Well, then you must not have ever had a testimony to begin with.”

“You don’t really feel that way.”

“You’re just trying to find fault to justify your sins.”

“I know you would never go looking for facts or doubt if there wasn’t something amiss in your life.”

On the other hand, my leaving was because I DID take the LDS leaders at their word.

“Each of us has to face the matter-either the Church is true, or it is a fraud. There is no middle ground. It is the Church and kingdom of God, or it is nothing.”– President Gordon B. Hinckley. “Loyalty,” April Conference, 2003.

So if the church tells me it has to be all or nothing I believe them. OK, Gordon, if I have to choose one or the other, it’s a fraud. That pretty much sums up why I left.

Unlike my friends who claim they don’t take it all literally and therefore can remain active but only partially believing members, I take the leaders at their word.