|Elder Holland angrily defends the historicity of the Book of Mormon|
LDS General Conference, October 2009
For most of this 2-week period I firmly believed that the Book of Mormon was true; but I also had a growing knowledge that Native Americans were not related to Israelites. The intense cognitive dissonance this created was eventually resolved on the 3rd of August. When I woke up that morning I no longer believed that there were any Lamanites to be found. I no longer believed that the Book of Mormon was a historical document connected with the true origins of the American Indians. This was a devastating discovery that had an immediate impact on many other beliefs. Since I had based my testimony on the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon, as many prophets had counselled me to do, my belief in the truth claims of the church were also severely compromised.
If I had not been the bishop I could have quietly dealt with this challenge to my faith. But I was the bishop and I had severe doubts. To continue in my calling was unthinkable. I had no alternative but to ask to be released. I met with my Stake President two days later and asked to be released. He asked if I could hold on until a new bishop was called, but I insisted I be released as soon as possible. Within a week I had met with the entire Stake Presidency to discuss my reasons for asking for a release. All local leaders who knew me showed respect and kindness in the way they treated me. Not once did I detect judgement or anger. All of us were upset with what was happening. I was released about two weeks after meeting with my Stake President and a member of the Stake Presidency acted as bishop until a replacement was found. Releasing a bishop and calling a new one is not a simple process, and typically takes about 6 weeks in Australia.
I learned afterwards that Warren Aston was a travel agent who specializes in tours to the Middle East. He is also famous in LDS apologetic circles for discovering a stone in Yemen carrying the inscription "NHM". Aston claims this stone may have been connected with the Book of Mormon location Nahom where Lehi built an alter. Intriguingly, noted Mormon scholar Terryl Givens believes that the evidence Aston has uncovered is among the strongest archaeological evidence in support of the Book of Mormon. Warren Aston is also a noted UFO researcher.
I was alarmed by the tone and content of this document. Just weeks before reading it I had been faithfully serving in the church. The implication that I was a critic of the church looking for evidence to tear down the Book of Mormon was extremely disturbing. During my release I had never criticized the church. I had also not publicly questioned church teachings. In private meetings I had presented leaders with the facts I was currently unable to reconcile with my beliefs. I was in fact trying to get in touch with senior leaders of the church to discuss the difficulties the DNA research would create for the church in the near future.
Within a couple of weeks I received another surprise in the form of a letter from the Area President, Elder Featherstone. I had never spoken to Elder Featherstone before. I learned afterwards that he had not even spoken to my Stake President before writing to me. He had written based on second hand accounts of what was going on in Brisbane with a wayward bishop. His letter was clearly intended to fill me with fear and guilt. Fear that I would hurt my mother, family and future generations in my family. Fear that I might shake the faith of others who looked up to me. Fear that the eternal lives of my wife and family would be put in jeopardy. Fear that I would become a “hollow shell” of the man that I once was.
All the people I have spoken to who have known Elder Featherstone agree that he is a genuinely kind man. His letter is simply the natural reaction of a person defending a belief system they are incapable of questioning. In spite of this it was an appalling letter to send and I shudder to think of the number of Mormons who have received similarly abusive letters from their church leaders.
Featherstone interpreted my actions as a threat to his beloved church and his letter was purely aimed at defending the church. I had asked to be released because I had honest doubts and it was the right thing to do. I could not simply pretend that I was not troubled and continue on as bishop. At the time I was still shocked and confused and had not even decided that I was going to leave the Church. Elder Featherstone later apologized for sending the letter without first talking to my Stake President (who was also surprised by the contents of his letter).
"We are all tried in different ways in the Church; and through those trials comes either increased faith and greater commitment, or a lost faith. I am committed to spending as much time as I need with the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price to get my previous witness back again as it was before.”
By December 1998 my wife Jane and all of our children (aged between 5 and 15) had decided to stop attending the church. We moved to Canberra a few weeks later and we have never regretted our choice to this day. All of our children have happily grown to adulthood with no religious beliefs. They are wonderful people who are free to make their own choices and they are starting to make important contributions to their community.