As I listed the reasons I stayed in the church, I realized I was mainly motivated by fear. I talked with my wife about it, and she had a similar experience.

My Shelf

It is common among exmormons to talk about a “shelf”. Essentially, when something doesn’t feel right, we put it on a metaphorical shelf to deal with it later. Maybe we don’t have all the answers or God hasn’t revealed everything yet, we say.

Like many latter-day saints, I had quite a few items on my shelf.

Mission Trauma

I spent the last summer working on processing my mission trauma. As I recounted the horrible things the church and its leaders do to missionaries, I would think, “This doesn’t sound like something God would do.” I won’t repeat all of my mission trauma here, but I would encourage a read through 1.2 My Story if you are curious and haven’t yet read it.

I talked with other returned missionaries and learned that it is very common to return traumatized from a mission. Friends recounted nightmares they’d had about getting another mission call, and we laughed about having the same nightmares.

But I figured there was some divinely appointed purpose for me going through that trauma. Maybe I was supposed to learn something from it or use the experience to help someone when I served in a future leadership role. So on the shelf it went.

Gender Equality and Family Dynamics

I was theoretically equal to my wife. But I was also taught in the temple that she could only be resurrected through me. I had learned that I was the patriarch of my home and that I presided. I grew up hearing in church meetings that God’s approved way of living was a husband who worked and a wife who had kids and stayed home with them. This didn’t sit right, since in many ways, my wife and I reverse traditional gender roles. I was taught that women could exercise the priesthood in their callings, but I saw that every significant decision still had to be approved by a man. Despite being taught that men and women were equal, it was disappointing to see statements like “Elder Ballard and his wife”. I realized how absurd this was when someone mentioned “Susan Ballard and her husband” and it took me a while to figure out who they were talking about.

The most important factor, though, was learning we likely cannot have children. We had been taught for years that our main purpose in life was to have kids and raise them in the church. My wife had learned in young women’s classes that her main job as a wife was to give me children and raise them. We wrestled with God for months to figure out why He would not allow us to fulfill the single greatest purpose in life — her single greatest purpose in life.

I set this on my shelf, though, for several reasons. We were dealing with a lot of traumatic events, and it was easier not to think about this. I am a man, so I didn’t usually see how the church’s teachings about gender affected women. Adam and Eve had distinct roles, so maybe gender roles are meant to be symbolic of our origins. And it would all sort itself out in eternity, I figured.


After hearing the testimonies of people about the value and truthfulness of their own religions (including Islam, Buddhism, and even atheism), I realized I felt what I identified as the Spirit when I heard all of them. I set this on my shelf, though, thinking the Spirit was testifying about the portion of truth that these religions had, but remembering that I had the whole truth.

Good People

I frequently wondered why so many good people did good things despite knowing nothing about the church. My PhD advisor is one of the kindest, most generous people I’ve met, and he was raised outside the context of religion. My childhood best friend is gay, and he and his husband are amazing people. The only mission companion I stayed in contact with left the church and talked about how much better his life got after leaving.

By itself, this didn’t make too much of an impact, but then I remembered all of the abusive or “phony” people I had met within the church. Of course, there will be good and bad people in any organization, but I was disappointed to see that the church, if it made any difference, seemed to negatively affect people’s character. Nonetheless, I chalked this up to agency and set it on the ol’ shelf.

Culture and Mental Health

I talk quite a lot more about this in later sections, but it was always distressing to see how the church’s teachings would harm people I cared about. By their fruits I shall know them, I thought, so why do so many people in the church live with mental health challenges that are often provoked by people using the church’s teachings to propagate abuse? Once again, I chalked it up to individuals’ agency and put it on the shelf.

Historical and Doctrinal Issues

The church does not have a pleasant history, and its doctrine has changed a great amount over time. I won’t go into too much detail here, since Epistles 2 and 3 tackle the issues that are most important to me. But I didn’t have the time to study any of these issues, so I figured they were mostly “anti-mormon” materials blown out of proportion and set them on my shelf.

Building Maintenance

This was a minor issue for me, but our church building was in horrible shape. We were told to spend our Saturdays cleaning, and the building got so dusty that when they turned on the heat for the winter, I had to leave because it sent me into a horrible coughing fit. It was confusing that I paid 10% of my income in tithing and somehow God’s only true church would not maintain a building well enough to let me worship in it. But it was unfair to judge the truth of a church on its building maintenance, so I brushed it off and set it on my shelf.

Breaking the Shelf

Eventually, my shelf filled with too many things and broke. While I can’t identify a single straw that broke the camel’s back, I came to the conclusion that it was time to figure out what was true.

So, I prayed to have the spirit with me and started studying. On my left monitor, I pulled up the church’s website, along with several apologetic sources. On the right monitor, I pulled up antagonistic and secular/historical sources. I took an entire day off of work and studied.

My wife is a clinical social worker, so I have been able to learn a lot from her about manipulation and abuse. I have been especially interested in learning about abusive and manipulative language patterns. So it was shocking to me to see so many of these patterns in the general conference talks I studied. When I read “anti-mormon” sources, I felt like I was given permission to think and reason for myself. This aligned with what I believed about God; that He had given me the ability to discern for myself and make my own informed decisions. When I read faithful and apologetic sources, I felt what I can only describe as “icky”. I felt that my agency was by and large not being respected, as none of these sources would so much as provide links to the “anti-mormon literature” they described. Much of the faithful content I read did everything it could to destroy “anti-mormon"s’ reputations and cast doubt on their claims.

My shelf was beginning to break, and I felt like I was starting to understand that I had been lied to and manipulated. I felt betrayed. I wanted so badly for the church to be true. I had been told my whole life that if you lack wisdom, you should pray about it. I had heard that God will always answer a sincere prayer.

My Prayer

So I prayed my heart out. I had always been taught that the spirit will confirm the truth. For all my life, I had asked for a confirmation that the church was true. I don’t know that I ever got a real, solid answer, but I would occasionally feel peaceful and understand that to mean the spirit was confirming that what I was asking was true.

So I decided to experiment. I understood God to be logically consistent, meaning that to God, a statement is either true or false. Nothing to God could be both true and untrue at the same time. This is a critical part of logical reasoning. I determined that if it was important to God that I stayed in His church, He would do what he could.

In my prayer, I said, “I am considering leaving the church. Please confirm to me that the church is not true. I will understand a feeling from the spirit as a confirmation that I should leave the church.” I felt a spiritual confirmation equivalent to anything I had felt within the church.

I couldn’t believe it, so I waited a few hours and prayed again. This time, I asked directly, “Should I leave the church?” Instantly, I felt the same peace I felt when I asked if I should serve a mission, if I should attend Utah State University, and if I should marry my wife.

So it was settled. This left me with two options: either the church was not true and God was confirming that to me, or my spiritual confirmations have always been fabricated within my own mind. In either case, I was certain beyond a shadow of a doubt that the church was not true. I had felt the spirit confirm it to me. My testimony against the church is more sure than any testimony I had within the church.


In a miraculous turn of events, my wife and I came to the conclusion we wanted to leave the church around the same time, but for very different reasons. Her story is hers to tell (and she eventually intends to share it on this website), so I will say only that it has been amazing to share this spiritual journey. On the day we both resolved to leave the church, we both felt amazing. We felt happy and free, and we were finally hopeful about the rest of our lives. We realized how much the church was costing us, especially in terms of mental and emotional energy, and it felt so good to let go of all of that and start fresh.

The only negative experience we have had since leaving the church involved the hurt feelings and anger of
people who felt betrayed by our decision. It is an emotional decision for a lot of people, and we are so grateful for the friends (in and out of the church) who have supported us while we made this decision.

At midnight on New Year’s Day, we both clicked “send” on the resignation emails we had both drafted. Ten days later, we received confirmation letters from the church indicating our membership had been terminated, and we both felt great. We celebrated over drinks, and life has been good since. We’ve since experienced what we would have identified as blessings from God for our faithfulness.

Landon in Iowa

This letter has become more meaningful to me than any other document the church has given me. I am so grateful for the people who helped me get to this point, and I hope you find some encouragement if you are considering leaving the church: life gets better.