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Stephanie Coleman Testimony

I was born into a large family, the oldest child of six children.  My parents were staunch LDS members. My Dad came from pioneer stock. His own mother was a Danish immigrant and convert to the church and his father had ancestors who worked as the master mason of the Manti, Utah temple. My mother was a pioneer in her own right. Her parents were both converts to the church and their lifestyles changed as they became members of the church and raised their family in the church. My mother’s parents served three LDS missions…one to Ghana, Africa, one to England, and another was a temple mission. My mother was a member of the church her whole life, a firm believer and she and my Dad were married in the Los Angeles temple when they were 21 after my Dad returned from his mission to Denmark. A year later I was born and soon after my 5 brothers followed.

 

My father took his priesthood responsibilities seriously and he raised us as the church would have had him do. He was a sincere believer. We read the Book of Mormon each morning at 6:00 am before heading off to early morning seminary. We had Family Home Evening every Monday night, we participated in all church activities and we attended church every Sunday. We bore our testimony in Fast and Testimony meeting almost every Fast Sunday. We all went through each program that the church put together for the primary children and the youth. Each one of us got baptized, graduated from primary, received the priesthood {my brothers of course}, served in callings, received Eagle Scout Awards {my brothers}, and the Young Womanhood Medallion {me}. We all attended boys and young women’s camp each summer and often helped organize it. I served as the Beehive President, Mia Maid President, and Laurel President. I loved Young Women’s and some of my best friends I met at church. I participated a lot in musical things and often I was leading a youth choir or singing solos or duets at church for all kinds of programs. I especially loved singing about Jesus Christ. My favorite songs to sing were the ones about Jesus- “His Hands”, “Greater Love”. My favorite hymns have always been “I Stand All Amazed” and “How Great Thou Art”. I have also loved “I Know That My Redeemer Lives”. The Church was our life, our life centered on the Church and all of our friends and programs we were involved in were usually through the Church or with people we knew from the Church. We had a good and happy childhood and had many friends that lasted all throughout high school. Some of my closest friends were made through the Mormon Church. Our sheltered, though happy, childhood paved the way to an us vs. them mentality and whoever was not part of the Church was a “gentile” and was usually fair game for us to try to convert to the Church. There were at least 3 or 4 families I can remember from my childhood that our family worked diligently to help befriend in anticipation of helping to convert them to the Church. Being sincere in our beliefs, we believed that we had the truth and we had an obligation to share it with others. We didn’t have many friends outside of the church and those that weren’t Mormon, were potential Mormon converts.

 

While I was a youth I participated in early morning seminary and I would often read and study my Book of Mormon and other scriptures until they were well worn out. I wrote in my journal at least once or twice a week and read my scriptures every night before bed. Often I would do this routine instead of homework. I loved reading the scriptures. I used all kinds of lesson manuals and study guides to help me understand what I was reading and I often felt my prayers were answered many times, though I remember sometimes having a difficult time discerning if I was receiving an answer or if I was just feeling good at the time. Also as a young woman I remember having a difficult time understanding what God thinks about women. Does he love us? Does he really care about me as a girl? My parents, as a product of their times, were often quite gendered and believed that because I was a girl there were certainly things I wasn’t allowed to do and that I could not do and that the church backed this teaching up. I could not go away to college with their blessing, I could not go out later at night with my friends and my younger brothers could, I could not have the priesthood {and I wasn’t supposed to want it either}, my role in life is to be a wife and mother and I was to want and prepare for that above and beyond even a college education, and I may someday be a plural wife in the Celestial Kingdom as this is a celestial law. When I learned about this last teaching at church, I was deeply disturbed. I was a teenager at the time and I was repulsed at this idea. I didn’t want to be one of many wives to someone! Did God not love me? Did he not care for me? Are women not as important as men? Are we just property? I remember reading some of the stories in the Bible about polygamy and being deeply unhappy with some of the outcomes that I read about and not being convinced that it was a teaching of God- especially since all the incidences of polygamy seemed to result in some kind of heartbreak or terrible outcome. Being that I was young and didn’t want to deal with unpleasant things, I pushed it to the back of my head and figured it would be something to ask God about someday. I remember asking one of my young women leaders about this and was told to “just put it on my shelf of things to ask God about” and that “we don’t need to worry about that teaching anymore”. I believed her and put it behind me. I did not know in my young mind that this was a normal response to someone who had hard questions that often couldn’t be answered positively.

 

In the meantime, I continued doing things I was supposed to be doing. I was an example, I was a missionary to my friends at school, I read my scriptures, and I helped my brothers. I did everything I know I was supposed to do. I believed that I had strong spiritual experiences. I felt that I had the truth and that I had a map for my life. After school, I would go on a mission and I would get married after that and have a large family like a good Mormon girl should. I grew up wanting a large family and wanting nothing more than to get married and have a family, and to learn all that I can. It was what I was taught to desire. And so I did. I have been a mother in many ways ever since I can remember as I did many things to be a mother to my brothers.

 

I was blessed {or cursed?} with an inquisitive mind. My mom and dad said my first word was “why”? I was always asking questions and when I participated in study groups or classes at church I was the one in the front row raising my hand and constantly asking questions. My teachers loved me but really I wanted to know why about everything. I feel like I have been given this hunger to know things. When I want to know something, really know something… I study it out, I look at it from every different angle, I ponder it, I argue about it from each side, I write and read about it some more, and try it on for size. Then I decide what I really think about it. I pray about it throughout this process for understanding and clarity and for answers. It’s exhausting really and my mind is constantly going. It’s wonderful too when you learn something new or understand something that you couldn’t understand before. It’s painful when I read about something and I find out that a position or idea I had about something may not be what it really is and I change my thinking on it. It’s also exhilarating.

 

When I was a teenager {possibly 16 or 17], our youth group was going out for the weekend to have a wilderness experience. We were fasting and praying for a spiritual experience, we had an obstacle course along the way, and then we went out into the woods alone to have our own time with the Lord to find out for ourselves if the LDS church was true and if Joseph Smith was a true prophet. I had always believed my whole life that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God. I have always believed that he saw God the Father and Jesus Christ. I always believed in the First Vision and often bore testimony of it at church and to my friends that I shared the gospel with. However, I had never had a personal testimony of that myself. I had never received a witness myself of the truth of that which I could rely upon. I was taught as a child growing up that I could rely on my parents’ testimonies and lean on them until it was time to be on my own. As I got older, I felt I needed to have that witness of my own. My Dad and Mom were good people. They did what the church taught was right and my Dad especially lived his religion. He talked the talk and he walked the walk. He served others. I felt that I needed that personal witness myself so I could do the same. So during this wilderness experience, I read my Book of Mormon and read about The First Vision of Joseph Smith in his own words {for about the hundredth time in my life}. I thought about them and prayed about them personally. I prayed for hours. I cried out to the Lord. I was never more sincere than at any other time in my life. Nothing happened. I remember being confused and wondering why the Lord didn’t answer me. I had prayed numerous times before about whether or not the church was true and didn’t get an answer but I continued to live my life as I should, thinking that eventually I would have the Spirit to answer me. Still nothing. I was confused. After all these years and after this experience, we had a huge testimony meeting and all these youth got up to bear their testimonies about amazing things that had happened to them. Some of them were youth who did drugs and lived in such a way that I questioned how they ever felt the Spirit in the first place. Why did the Lord forget me? Why wasn’t I worthy to answer? I wrote in my journal that day about my experience and told how amazing it was… that I had this huge spiritual experience. I left out the whole part about praying about the church and Joseph Smith. To this day I can’t believe that I lied in my journal. I was so concerned about how my own future generation would perceive me that I even changed what I wrote in my journal!

 

After this, I put this experience behind me and ignored it. I continued to live the way that the church teaches that I “should”. I loved to sing, be involved with scripture study, and tried to improve myself each day. I considered myself to be close to God, continued to believe in the church, lived the way that I should. It was then that the best part of my life was beginning… I met and married my husband Jeffrey who was a returned Mormon missionary from Brazil. We met at our best friend’s wedding. We dated for about 9 months off and on and we were married in the Los Angeles temple on August 6, 1999. I always knew I would be married in the temple. I had prepared and planned for it all my life and would settle for nothing less. My first experience going through the temple was strange. I was as prepared as I could possibly be. I studied everything I could about the temple so I could be ready. I prayed and fasted, and couldn’t wait to be there. I remember going through the Endowment session and seeing almost my entire ward there as well as my whole family. As the endowment session was progressing and we were asked to make commitments to laws that I didn’t know about before being there, I remember thinking… “Ah! Wait! I need time to learn about that first!” But there was no time to learn about it. You either accept it or you don’t. I remember thinking how strange this was. I felt like I was in a different religion and I felt like this was very weird. I looked around at my family and my parents and I figured that since they thought it was alright that this must really be ok then. I had a billion questions about EVERYTHING in the temple. I asked questions of my husband, my parents, the temple president, even the women who performed the ordinances and no one had any answers for me. Most of the time I was told that the more I kept returning to the temple, the more I would understand. I couldn’t understand why we would need to memorize tokens and signs…He would know our hearts better than that, right? My husband and I would return every week while engaged and every month after we got married. Most of the time I had more questions and less answers as no one else seemed to have any answers for me. I would pray and pray for answers and be filled with more questions. I would turn to the scriptures for my questions and answers and felt like I just had to keep attending the temple and eventually I would understand. I couldn’t wait to learn all the things in the temple that I wondered about. Looking back, I can see that I often felt like I was a part of the Emperor’s New Clothes… everyone at the temple would say the temple experience was marvelous and wonderful and glorious but they couldn’t even describe or say why or what was so great about it! They all had the same answer which was really no answer at all. Was I the only one that didn’t understand? Was I really that stupid and everyone else got it? If so, why wasn’t anyone willing or able to answer the way to get this hidden knowledge that only certain people seemed to be privy to?  For a long time this bothered me and I tried to brush it aside. I loved the Celestial room and spent hours in there with my husband, asking more questions and praying together. I sincerely believed that someday the answers would come, I just needed to pray more, study harder, and dig deeper. And I did.

 

After we were married, Jeff and I were blessed to have 6 beautiful children, one right after the other. For some reason they needed to come quickly and even at times when we were trying to prevent pregnancy! We assumed that the Lord knew better than we did. I believe that our children all came when the Lord wanted them to and they fill our lives with joy. I love having children and being a mother. In this I have felt that this was my calling in life and I have found much fulfillment. One time as we were disciplining one of our young children, I remember Jeff and I disagreeing over our discipline style and I told Jeff that our children were innocent and pure and incapable of sin and that they could not be tempted by Satan. He disagreed and didn’t believe that and asked me where I had heard that children weren’t able to sin? I whipped out my Doctrine and Covenants, feeling so self righteous as I read to him, “Wherefore, they can not sin, for power is not given unto Satan to tempt little children, until they begin to become accountable before me;” {D&C 25:14} The accepted age of accountability in the church is the age of 8. Jeff seemed to be surprised at that scripture and hadn’t learned that doctrine as I had. He felt little children were selfish and needed to be taught what was right and were not so innocent. I thought he was so wrong and how awful that he thought such horrible things about our children! Looking back now, I believe I was in the wrong. Having 6 children, I can clearly see that little children are selfish by nature. They are innocent as they do not know the things of the world but they look out only for themselves and must be constantly taught to NOT do things that are wrong, they must be taught to share and not be selfish, they must be taught to serve others, to obey instead of to be defiant. It is in their fallen nature to sin. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” {Romans 3:23}

 

In the summer of 2005, I read a book that my mother gave to me. She was getting rid of some books that she wanted to throw away and one was a biography of Emma Smith. I have always loved and admired Emma Smith so I thought I would take it off her hands. It was called Emma: Dramatic Biography of Emma Smith by Keith and Ann Terry {Both active LDS historians}. She gave it to me and I read it that summer. I was shocked at the things I read; I was surprised that the authors were staunch LDS authors, both of them historians. I checked them out and made sure they weren’t anti-mormons and they weren’t. The book ended up being all about Joseph Smith’s polygamy and how Emma dealt with it {or didn’t deal with it}. These historians had an opinion that Emma had fallen from grace because she didn’t accept her husband’s polygamy wholeheartedly and that she was a bad example, etc. The preface of the book actually says, “That Emma had faults, and perhaps failed her supreme test, is truth.” I about choked out my lunch when I read that! I disagreed with the authors and remember thinking that they were wrong. But then I was surprised as I read on to what an apostle of the Church said and that he seemed to agree with them…”Heber C. Kimball remarked on July 12, 1857: ‘Joseph stood for the truth and maintained it, she struck against it, and where is she? She is where she is, and she will not escape until Joseph Smith opens the door and lets her out.’ It was a well told story in the Church that Joseph Smith had said he loved Emma so much that he would go to hell and back for her! And an apostle of the Church seemed to believe that she was in hell! Wow. That was a HUGE judgment to be making for someone who wasn’t God himself! I was not too happy with the authors and more than a little upset with what I had read. As a married woman, not only did I sympathize with Emma Smith but I could feel for her situation and imagine how that would make me feel to find out my husband was married to other women {Some of these women were young, only 14 -15, some were also married to other men at the same time of their marriage to Joseph, some he most likely had children with, and at least half he married that Emma didn’t know about until afterwards!} The picture I was seeing of plural marriage was something that was that was full of secrecy, lies, and involved loss of trust between spouses. It made me ask those same questions again… if this was of God, does this mean God did not care for women as much as men? Why would a man need 33 wives to obtain exaltation? How about 56 wives? Why would God allow a man to promise a 15 year old girl and her entire family exaltation if she was to become one of the prophet’s plural wives? And the authors thought Emma was in hell for not accepting this and having a problem with her husband’s plural marriages? I think I would act the same way Emma did. I was so disturbed by this book and this information that I set out to see if it was true or not… most of the records and stories were not only verifiable but most of the information was found in LDS archives. I learned quickly that I did not need to go farther than my own bookshelves to find out what I needed to know. Much has been written by our own LDS historians on the subject of plural marriage. I tried so hard to put this behind me, and I felt nothing but revulsion to all things polygamy and polyandry, so I decided I could not deal with it and I needed to forget about it. I was pregnant with our 5th child at the time and thought perhaps that I was just too emotional to be able to deal with this.

 

Later that same month, President Hinckley urged all of us members to read The Book of Mormon before the end of the year. Feeling guilty for my angry feelings earlier and desiring to be a better person and wife and mother, and wanting to follow the Prophet, I began an intense study of The Book of Mormon {even though I had read and studied it at least 15 times in my life thus far up to that point}. As I was reading I came across some scripture in the book of Jacob which caught me by surprise. I had read these verses many times before only this time it shook me to the very core of my being.

 

“And now it came to pass that the people of Nephi, under the reign of the second king, began to grow hard in their hearts, and indulge themselves somewhat in the wicked practices, such as like unto David of old desiring many wives and concubines, and also Solomon, his son.” {Jacob 1:15}

 

“Behold, David and Solomon truly had many wives and concubines, which thing was abominable before me, saith the Lord.” {Jacob 2:24}

 

And again in verse 27…

 

“…For there shall not any man among you have save it be one wife; and concubines he shall have none;”

 

Why would the Book of Mormon say that having many wives was abominable? Why was it sinful and wicked? What? I didn’t understand so I read the scriptures that were cross referenced….

 

Neither shall he multiply wives to himself, that his heart turn not away: neither shall he greatly multiply to himself silver and gold.” {Deuteronomy 17:17}

 

Huh? I read all the other cross references…

 

“And David took him more concubines and wives out of Jerusalem, after he was come from Hebron: and there were yet sons and daughters born to David.” {2 Sam 5:13}

 

The last cross reference I read floored me…

 

“David also received many wives and concubines, and also Solomon and Moses, my servants, as also many others of my servants, as from the beginning of creation until this time; and in nothing did they sin save those things which they received not of me.

David’s wives and concubines were given unto him of me, by the hand of Nathan, my servant, and others of the prophets who had the keys of this power; and in none of these things did he sin against me save in the case of Uriah and his wife; and, therefore he hath fallen from his exaltation, and received his portion; and he shall not inherit them out of the world, for I gave them unto another, saith the Lord.” {Doctrine and Covenants 132:38-39}

 

I kept reading Jacob 2:24 and comparing it to the above verse… how could David be involved in wicked practices of having many wives and concubines but somehow in D&C he only sinned in the one case of Uriah and his wife? How is it that in the verses in 2 Sam David TOOK the wives and concubines to himself {which was condemned in the book of Jacob} but in the D&C it says he RECEIVED these wives of the Lord?? WHAT? What was I missing here? In Jacob he is talking about how the Nephites are continuing in wickedness such as David and Solomon of old by desiring and taking many wives and concubines! Then in the D&C it is explained away that what is talked about in Jacob is not really wicked at all? Huh? I am no rocket scientist, but it didn’t take me long to figure out that this is a major contradiction here!

 

I did a search back and forth trying to understand why there was such a contradiction in the scriptures between the D&C and the BOM. No matter how you turn these scriptures inside and out, they contradict each other. The Lord can not condemn David’s plural wives in one verse and then say that they were GIVEN to him in another verse and have these both be correct!! The mental gymnastics that requires is ridiculous! I remember asking my husband about this on the phone while he was deployed overseas as I was clearly confused over this. He had never heard of this and was as confused as I was. He thought that perhaps there was a typo! So I borrowed my friend’s scriptures to look them up in hers as well just to make sure. Sure enough… the same verses word for word. I asked a trusted friend of mine who was LDS… her husband taught at BYU. I was so concerned about this. She read through all the verses and said that the D&C clarified the other scriptures and that there was a provision in Jacob 2:30 which says, “For if I will, saith the Lord of Hosts, raise up seed unto me, I will command my people; otherwise they shall hearken unto these things.” She said that it’s ok if the Lord commands plural marriage for more seed. It still didn’t make sense though… why would God say in one verse David TOOK the wives and in another he RECEIVED them of the Lord and in one verse it was abominable before the Lord and in the other verse it was GIVEN TO HIM OF THE LORD? I went online to the LDS apologist’s website and read through their articles on the subject…hoping they would have an answer that would make sense. They basically said the same thing as my friend and so I emailed a few of them for more clarification. When I continued to ask why there was this contradiction, my character and my sincerity was immediately attacked and I was accused of being a troublemaker who never had a real testimony. I was really devastated by this and felt completely misunderstood. I just wanted to understand! Since when was it a sin to ask a question?!

 

I found myself surprised and not sure what to think. I hit my knees and asked the Lord for understanding. I told Him I wanted to know what the truth was. I wanted to be given the truth no matter what… was plural marriage a Godly principle? Was it a Celestial law? Would I have to live this someday? Did Joseph Smith practice this law divinely and was Emma really in hell for not accepting it completely? Was Joseph really a prophet of God? I sincerely wanted to understand. I was tired of being in the dark and not sure what was right on this issue. How could I teach my daughters about eternal marriage if someday that marriage could include plurality of wives in the next life if I didn’t even know for myself whether or not it was truly from God?

 

In the meantime, I was in contact with a Christian friend of mine from an email support group named Tina. She was a godly woman… raised a large family and she loved Jesus Christ. I talked with her about my concerns. She knew quite a bit about the Mormon faith and she wanted to understand what I was concerned about. I asked her about polygamy from a Christian perspective. She explained to me that the Christian view on polygamy was that even though it was practiced in the Bible, it was never commanded by God but just tolerated by Him, like many other cultural things His children do that are not of Him. She said however that this is much like divorce….not commanded by God, but tolerated as His children are sinful and will do things He doesn’t want them to do. She reminded me that the first instance of polygamy mentioned in the Bible is of a wicked descendant of Cain named Lamech.

“And Lamech took unto him two wives: the name of the one was Adah, and the name of the other Zillah.” {Genesis 4:19} He also took the wives to himself; it was not commanded of God. Also in Abraham’s case… his wife {not God} gave him his plural wife and in the case of Jacob… he was tricked into plural marriage by a master schemer! As we talked my friend explained the Christian beliefs regarding marriage, polygamy, prophet’s, the test for a prophet found in Deuteronomy 18:20-22, and about temples. She asked me if I knew about masonry and the freemasons. I told her I had ancestors who were master masons for the Manti, Temple. She led me to a website of the freemasons. I was immediately uncomfortable with the website, something about the symbols on the front page creeped me out. So I clicked out of the website. On another page I saw pictures of the outside of the Salt Lake and Logan temples with the same exact symbols on them! I didn’t believe it. I figured it was a website trick. I learned about freemasonry then for the first time and about Joseph Smith’s involvement with freemasonry. I had never heard of this before and I loved to study Church History so I told Tina thanks and I hung up.

 

I contacted my LDS friend whose husband works for BYU. I trusted her and she is a studier like me. She knew all about freemasonry and said that it was not evil, but just like a fraternity. I began reading my 7 Volume History of the Church for understanding… and found that Joseph Smith rose to the sublime degree in freemasonry, just before he instituted the temple ceremony and that the temple ceremony is very similar to freemasonry. Again I went on the LDS apologist’s board and asked them questions all about this and was told that freemasonry was just a perverted form of temple worship and that Joseph instituted the real thing. How are we to know this? Lots of plural wives and secrecy, an unhappy prophet’s wife who suffers so much for the kingdom and then up and leaves it as soon as Joseph dies because she doesn’t want to be someone else’s plural wife? Then symbols on the temples that are Satanic in nature? Contradictions in the scriptures that is not answerable? I couldn’t help remembering that I had prayed and asked the Lord for understanding and for truth. I stayed up until all hours of the night reading and studying until I felt my eyes would fall out. I read and studied the Bible about plural marriage and poured over Church History trying to understand why Emma did not know about half of Joseph’s plural marriages. Whywas he was going to abandon the practice just before he was murdered? I got to a point where I was so worn out and tired and so exhausted from my studies that I would cry in frustration and from lack of understanding. I felt like I was being brought down into the depths of despair and I found myself wishing I didn’t know all of the things I was learning about and wanting to go back to my naēve existence before. But I wanted understanding more and I continued to pray for that. I had many long talks with my husband and tried to figure this all out in my brain.

 

I found myself trying to learn about and discover for myself throughout this search who God really was… what really was He and who was He? What if Joseph Smith was wrong and was deceived? What if He didn’t really know the nature of God? I began reading the Bible and found myself surprised by what I read, especially in Isaiah about the nature of God and Jesus…

 

“I, even I am the Lord; and beside me there is no saviour. I have declared and I have saved, and I have shewed, when there was no strange god among you: therefore ye are my witnesses, saith the Lord, that I am God. Yea, before the day was I am he; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand: I will work, and who shall let it?” {Isaiah 43:11-13}

-Jesus Christ is GOD!

 

“Thus saith the Lord that made thee, and formed thee from the womb, which will help thee: Fear not, O Jacob, my servant; and thou, Jesurun, whom I have chosen.” {Isaiah 44:2}

-He formed me from the womb, not in a pre-existence!

 

“Thus saith the Lord the King of Israel, and his redeemer the Lord of hosts; I am the first, and I am the last; and beside me there is no God.” {Isaiah 44:6}

-There is no other God? In the Mormon Church I was taught that there were three separate Gods {Heavenly Father, Jesus, and the Holy Ghost} but that we worship only the Father. How could there only be one God? Wouldn’t God have known about the other ones?

 

“Fear ye not, neither be afraid: have not I told thee from that time, and have declared it? Ye are even my witnesses. Is there a God beside me? Yea, there is no God. I know now any.”

-My Christian friend explained to me that the Trinitarian belief of God is that there is ONE GOD as these scriptures explain…

 

“For thus saith the Lord that created the heavens; God himself that formed the earth and made it; he hath established it, he created it not in vain, he formed it to be inhabited: I am the Lord and there is none else. I have not spoken in secret…” {Isaiah 45:18-19}

-Trinity: One God eternally manifested in three distinct persons…Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

 

“…who hath told it from that time? Have not I the Lord? And there is no God else beside me; a just God and a Saviour: there is none beside me. Look to me and be saved all ye ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else.” {Isaiah 45:21-22}

 

-Again, if the belief I had been taught in the Mormon Church was true that God and Jesus are separate persons and separate Gods, then wouldn’t Jesus who is supposed to be speaking above know about the other God his Father?

-Jesus says to look to Him and be saved.

 

I pondered these things in Isaiah and then read more and couldn’t stop. I found myself reading in John…

 

“In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” {John 1:1}

-The notes in my scriptures said –‘Jesus is the Word’. This scripture was a great example of the Trinitarian concept of God… Jesus was with God and WAS God BOTH in the beginning!! He wasn’t my spirit brother… HE WAS WITH GOD AND WAS GOD in the beginning! He was not a created being… HE WAS the Son of God and the Creator and as such He could not have been there in the beginning if He was a spirit brother of mine. The scriptures say that God is everlasting to everlasting and has no beginning or end… and this verse clearly shows that Jesus has no beginning or end either! He became flesh and did the will of His Father on earth.

 

My Christian friend Tina eventually put me in touch with another Christian friend who had been LDS and lived in Utah {I have forgotten this woman’s name but I will never forget her!} This friend and I talked about my concerns and then we talked about Jesus Christ. We spoke for a good two hours. She asked me what I knew about and believed about Him and we discussed the nature of God. We read scriptures together about God and tried to understand the nature of God. It was clear that the Old Testament scriptures as well as New Testament scriptures taught that Jesus Chris was the Only Begotten Son of God, and that He was my God, not just a God as doubting Thomas says when he sees his master after His resurrection! I loved the analogy she gave me… “God the Father is up on the judge’s stand and you are the accused. You are found guilty as charged for  your sins. After handing out your sentence, God the Father comes down off the stand and takes on flesh and in the person of Jesus Christ, He takes your punishment for you!” I couldn’t help the feeling of gratitude this image put in my mind of my Savior.

 

We read some scriptures which talk of how someone can be saved …

 

“That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed. For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him. For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” {Romans 10:9-13}

 

I had always been taught about this mighty change of heart while growing up, had read about it and wanted it… not knowing how to get it, thinking that maybe someday if I worked hard enough at being as righteous as I could that eventually I would arrive to that spiritual place. But I realized the folly of this thinking. Maybe I just needed to confess with my mouth and believe in my heart? But that’s too easy… right?

 

We read on…

 

“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” {Ephesians 2:8-9}

 

It wasn’t long after this study of the scriptures and doctrine and discussing the nature of God and realizing the full magnitude of the reality of my sins and my brokenness that I found myself on my knees, in the bathroom with the door locked, in the dark. I poured my heart out to my Savior and told him that I accepted His gift of salvation, that I wanted to be forgiven of my sins, and that I was not worthy of such a gift but that I was willing to receive it. I asked Him to take over my life, to work a mighty change in my heart. I remember feeling silly as I said these words and at the same time overcome with gratitude as I paid attention to the words carefully. For the first time in my life I really meant it and I wanted to be forgiven. I came out of that dark bathroom {the only place for privacy in my house} feeling like something was different about me. I wanted to share this with someone, especially my husband at that time, but I was afraid of someone else thinking this was silly but I felt a change come over me after that. I remember afterwards hearing the words in my head “new creature in Christ”. I know I had read that before so I opened the Bible and searched for this verse…

 

“Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature; old things are passed away; behold all things are become new.” {2 Corinthians 5:17}

 

The best way to describe how I felt was new. Definitely born again.

 

After this experience however I didn’t know how to make sense of my newness, my experience with the Lord and with the questions I had about the church doctrine. I was only beginning my journey to know the Lord. I didn’t know how to reconcile anything and I was living in a state of cognitive dissonance. And then suddenly without warning and without my ability to have my questions answered or reconciled, I had almost every trial thrown at me that I was most unprepared for. Within a few weeks in the midst of my studying the answers to my questions about the issues of polygamy and temple worship and whether or not Joseph Smith was a prophet, my father very unexpectedly passed away at the ripe old age of 49. I learned of his death while on my way to the hospital to give birth to my 5th baby. The turmoil and confusion that was thrown at me from every side was huge. Two days after giving birth, we went to the funeral and my cousin and I sang my father’s favorite song ‘How Great Thou Art’ at the funeral- coincidentally, a very Christian [not LDS originated] hymn. It was the best gift I could give my Dad… my testimony of my Savior and My Lord. From there on, I continued to have every trial come at me from every side. I was pounded upon with my newborn baby coming ill with RSV pneumonia, my husband being taken away for a 4 month deployment, and thrust into single motherhood just 3 weeks after giving birth. It was a difficult time and I was concerned what this meant. Had I been wrong? Was I really not doing what was right? While my daughter was in the hospital struggling through her RSV pneumonia, I met with priests and pastors and clergy members and even an LDS doctor. Their answers to my questions swam in my head amidst all the chaos of my life… the LDS doctor was convinced that all I needed to do was go to the LDS church and just attend sacrament once in awhile and that temple work wasn’t necessary.

 

I began studying my Bible and reading Bible studies that helped me to understand the basic doctrines of Christianity. The Lord put one person after another into my life at certain points to help me… even though I wasn’t sure what to do or where I should go. I could not make sense of the questions I had. I finally came to the realization that Joseph Smith was not what he claimed to be. I remember clearly the night that this happened. I was again reading my Book of Mormon and sincerely trying to believe what I read and studying my heart out, determined that because I really had a changed heart now that the Lord would answer me this time. And so I asked again as I had many many times before. I got on my knees and poured out my heart to the Lord and asked Him to tell me if The Book of Mormon was true and if Joseph Smith was a prophet of God. I remember hearing the words, “No.” There was a resounding peace and then a feeling of devastation. It had to be true! It couldn’t be false! I prayed again, “I already gave you my answer. By their fruits ye shall know them.” was my answer this time. But weren’t the fruits of the Mormon church good and sweet? Look at all the good that the church does! I thought back to the issues with plural marriage and the lies and the secrecy, the women who I had read about who had lived horrible lives sharing their husband with other women for this “higher law”. Brigham Young and Joseph Smith both taught that you had to practice polygamy to go to the Celestial Kingdom. Was this a good fruit? We no longer practice this anymore… is it really that important anymore? So many people told me it was not that important of an issue at all… since we don’t believe it anymore… but we DO believe it! It’s right there in Doctrine and Covenants 132! It has not been removed! We don’t practice it but I was taught we would live it in the Celestial Kingdom. But then what about the answer to my prayer? Is it a good fruit to teach my daughter that their only eternal hope is to someday be a plural wife to their beloved husband? Is that something that God would want us as His daughters to work hard in this life for? To share their husband with another? {That didn’t like heaven to me!} If that were true, why did He not create more than one wife for Adam in the Garden of Eden? Why would He command in the scripture, 

“Therefore, shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.” {Genesis 2:24}

 

You can’t be one flesh with more than one! As much as I believed the answer the Lord had given me, I was concerned by it. I was married to a wonderful man, I had 5 beautiful children, and I had been a good faithful Mormon my entire life. What was I to do? I found myself desiring to read the Bible. I wanted to learn about the things I hadn’t read about before and I joined a Bible study group and found myself trying to find a good church home to attend. I vacillated back and forth between wanting to please my husband and keep our family the way it has always been to wanting to please God and desiring with all my heart to worship with others who believed as I did. Attending the Mormon Church became difficult as I could not tolerate hearing about Joseph Smith. I was annoyed by his birthday celebration broadcast on BYU TV two days before Christmas but nothing special was done on Christmas for Jesus. I was concerned over so much emphasis on Joseph Smith and so little emphasis on Jesus. My heart was just yearning to worship and wanting to learn about and know Jesus. I went back and forth trying to find another church to attend, worshipping at times at different Christian churches… knowing that all those who accept Jesus as their Savior belong to His Church which is the Body of Christ! Denomination is not important…just different worship styles but all believers in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior and no talk of Joseph Smith. I loved the times I would sing and sing and sing the Psalms to the Lord and felt as if I was truly worshiping Jesus!  I did yo-yo back and forth however with not knowing what to do… should I just leave the church or should I just believe in Jesus as I do and continue to attend the Mormon Church? More than anything else I was afraid of my husband being disappointed in me, not loving me anymore, and losing respect for me. I felt at such a crossroads already, completely caught unaware with where I was in my life… this is NOT what I had ever envisioned happening in my life! But I loved my husband more than life itself {and still do} and his love and respect is something dear and precious to me that I never want to lose. My gripping fear of losing that has kept me vacillating back and forth, feeling like I had one foot in one camp and one foot in another at the same time.

 

At one point a friend emailed me and said, “Stop making your husband your God.” I didn’t think I was doing that but I guess in a way we can let other people in our lives become our God instead of God by how and where we place them in importance in our life.  I prayed about what to do and the Lord led me to write my exit letter and leave the LDS church. It came about through my children of all things. I realized I can not be a liar to my children. I have to be a woman of integrity. It happened one Sunday when I was asked to substitute in primary for my daughter’s class. I sat down to read the lesson for class that day and as I read the words of the lesson, I knew instantly that I could not go and teach these things… that I would be a liar. I couldn’t teach what I didn’t believe and act like I believed it. I couldn’t purposely be what I feared being most… a hypocrite. That Sunday propelled a series of actions in which I wrote letters to family and friends and the church to leave the church. My family was so shocked and surprised that they didn’t know how to respond and at first they believed it was a joke. Me, Stephanie Coleman, leaving the church seemed like a joke to them… it would be… I was one of the strongest members of the LDS church in my family.  I was an example to my brothers. I had always done what was right. So I can see how they thought it wasn’t true. They were understandably very upset and my brother attempted to “love bomb” me back into the church, using the missionary commitment pattern on me to get me to agree to read The Book of Mormon again and talk with him. I was too afraid to not agree… I was still unsure because this was such new territory and I felt fear that what if I was wrong? Plus more than anything I didn’t want to lose my family or disappoint them. However, I got to the point where I couldn’t continue because I already knew the answers. They were the standard Sunday School answers… and the answers still troubled me. But it wasn’t helping me. It was just frustrating me as I was continuing to read and learn over again things I had already learned before. I wanted questions answered that couldn’t be answered satisfactorily. The one question no one could answer for me is the biggest problem of all in trying to understand Joseph Smith… “If Joseph Smith is a prophet of God and restored this church on the earth, then why are there over 9 different, contradicting versions of the First Vision? Which one am I supposed to pray about? Which one really is the one that happened and which one is the Church’s teaching on the Godhead?” I had read Joseph Smith’s dairies and journals. I had poured over histories about Joseph Smith written by LDS church historians who came to the same conclusion… this wasn’t information that you had to find on a website. Our own LDS scholars know about these different, conflicting accounts! This was right there for all to see. I had read straight out of Joseph’s own handwriting his first account of the First Vision…

“My mind became exceedingly convicted of my sins and by searching the scriptures I found that mankind did not come unto the Lord but that they had apostatized from the true and living faith. There was no society or denomination that built upon the gospel of Jesus Christ as recorded in the New Testament and I felt to mourn for my own sins and for the sins of the world. For I learned in the scriptures that God was the same yesterday, today, and forever…Therefore I cried unto the Lord for mercy for there was none else to whom I could go and obtain mercy. The Lord heard my cry in the wilderness and while in the attitude of calling upon the Lord in the 16th year of my age a pillar of light above the brightness of the sun at noon day come down from above and rested upon me. I was filled with the spirit of God and the Lord opened the heavens upon me and I saw the Lord. He spake unto me saying, ‘Joseph my son thy sins are forgiven thee. Go thy way, walk in my statutes and keep my commandments. Behold I am the Lord of Glory. I was crucified for the world that all those who believe on my name may have Eternal life’…My soul was filled with love and for many days I could rejoice with great Joy and the Lord was with me. But I could find none that would believe the heavenly vision. Nevertheless, I pondered these things in my heart.” {The Diaries and Journals of Joseph Smith, edited by Scott H. Faulring, pages5-6, 1832} This was not the official version of the First Vision we read today which shows Joseph seeing God AND Jesus. In this account he only saw Jesus. The First Vision account today we are taught was written in 1838 even though this event supposedly happened in 1820. Our basis on the nature of God and Jesus being separate beings with bodies of flesh and bone is based on Joseph’s First Vision account. The entire doctrine of God’s nature and Jesus’s nature is based off of this story. If this story wasn’t true, if Joseph was not a true prophet, then no matter how great the rest of the church doctrines sounded to me… they could not be true either. They were based on a lie. Why did my 7 volume set of The History of the Church include a prophecy by Joseph Smith that Jesus Christ would return to the earth in the 2nd coming in 1890? If a prophet makes a false prophecy, is he still a prophet? The Bible seems to say he isn’t! The clincher came for me when reading the History of the Church and I came read a discourse Joseph gave shortly before he was killed. He boasted that he was better than Jesus and that no one, not even Jesus could keep a whole church together like he could! I think my whole world fell apart then.

“I have more to boast of than ever any man had. I am the only man that has ever been able to keep a whole church together since the days of Adam. A large majority of the whole have stood by me. Neither Paul, John, Peter, nor Jesus ever did it. I boast that no man ever did such a work as I. The followers of Jesus ran away from Him; but the Latter-day Saints never ran away from me yet.” {History of the Church, Volume 6, page 408-409} As I read this I realized that herein lies the major problem… Joseph even taught that Jesus was just a man…He was not our God, but an exalted man, which is why he didn’t see how blasphemous it was to boast such a thing against our Lord and Savior!

 

The other issues that plagued me constantly: Why would a prophet of God command that in order to reach the highest degree in the kingdom of God that a man must have more than one wife? If polygamy was only in place for a time, why is it taught that it will be a Celestial law? If it is a Celestial law, why is there no command for it anywhere in the Bible? Why are all the most important doctrinal teachings of the LDS church not to be found anywhere in the Bible or the Book of Mormon? {Temple sealings, eternal marriage, plural marriage, the plan of salvation such as premortal life and preparing to become Gods of our own worlds}.

 

No matter what I learned, I seemed to easily became afraid that maybe I was wrong… after all, the more I have learned that I know, the more I find out that I know nothing at all and I have so much to learn. When my brother talked with me on the phone for three hours, I found that I could not speak and I was terrified that maybe I was wrong…? I was so afraid that I had made a mistake {even though the week before I had the reassurance from God that I was doing the right thing} that I immediately called up the Bishop and recanted my resignation and told him to hold onto my letter. I agreed to read and study the Book of Mormon again. As I did so, I found myself becoming sleepy every time I would try to study, even though I would plow through. I sincerely started over and tried with all my heart to believe, to do and be what I had been taught, and for awhile I believed I was going to be ok, that I could believe again and that eventually someday I would believe in Joseph Smith. I should have known by now that the Lord does not get us to do His will by using fear… so I should have seen that as a clue since that was my main motivation for attempting to stay in the church… fear. I was afraid of losing my family, my husband, my children, everything. What if my husband didn’t love me anymore? What if my family disowned me or didn’t treat me the same way ever again? What if my children didn’t respect me? What if I am wrong and I die and find out that I was mistaken?

 

So out of my fear I continued to go back and forth to doing what I had been taught was right. I figured my parents were good people… so I could not be wrong, right? By their fruits ye shall know them. Weren’t the fruits of the Mormon Church good fruits? I thought about that a long time. If the fruits were good, why was my mind so filled with fear of losing my family at the thought of leaving the church? If the fruits were good, why were only certain people helped in the church and others weren’t {only tithe payers, active members…etc}? If the fruits were good, why were we taught that we had to earn our way to heaven and why was grace glossed over? If the fruits were good, why were we preparing to become Gods someday when in Isaiah the Lord clearly says that before Him were no Gods formed neither shall there be any other Gods after Him formed? If the fruits of the church were good, why was I taught as a child that I couldn’t be friends with those who weren’t of my faith unless I was trying to convert them? {Jesus did not hang out with all the Christians all the time! He spent his time with the sinners!} If the fruits were good, why were so many meetings scheduled and so much TIME out of our life scheduled around the church so that there was no time for any real meaningful relationships with our families or with the Lord? If the fruits of the church were good, why did they care so much about visiting teaching and home teaching numbers {as if it was a job} instead of worrying more about individuals? If the fruits of the church were good, why were only certain people ‘allowed’ in the temple? If the fruits of the church were good, why did it separate families… those who weren’t members can’t even attend their own family members wedding because they aren’t ‘worthy’! If the fruits of the church were good, why does it teach that you can only be saved with your spouse? What a huge burden that is on a marriage and how little room that leaves for focusing individually on your relationship with Jesus Christ and instead how much more it forces you to be more concerned with how someone else is behaving instead of focusing on your own sins. How judgmental I have been of my husband over the years because of this teaching and how much I have to repent of this!

 

I realized something through my study and prayers the next few months. I realized that living in fear like this, in fear of losing everything and everyone I love is not of God. I realized that the fruits were not what they appeared to be and that was the hard part… it “Looked” good on the outside. I realized the fear of losing my family was keeping me from worshipping and believing how I really do and instead was keeping me in bondage. Jesus Christ wants us to worship Him with our whole heart and love Him with our whole heart and have no other Gods before Him and I think I was making my family and my husband my God.

 

2 1/2 years after giving my heart to my Savior Jesus Christ and asking Him to be the Lord of my life and accepting His gift of salvation, I am just now starting to feel strong enough to truly stand as a witness for Jesus Christ and to do what the Lord wants me to do. It is not any easier, but I have felt the Holy Spirit working in me and things that have terrified me before are not as scary anymore. I have been fellowshipping and worshiping with other Christian believers and studying the Bible. I have been turning to the Lord more for my support and my comfort. So far though the difficult part is not wanting to disappoint my entire family and fearing their rejection. I believe something different than they do.  But, I am tired of living a lie and pretending that I believe like everyone else. It is a difficult way to live, it makes me a hypocrite, and it makes me a liar to my own husband and children. If I am to be a woman of integrity I must follow and do what is right and what God wants me to do regardless of the sacrifices and the trials. I know that as the Bible says, a Christian life is not an easy one and is usually wrought with trials. The only difference now is that I am not allowing the fear to grip me and paralyze me from doing what I know is right. I know that others will not understand and I expect that, but I will hope and pray that new relationships will be formed, and new opportunities will abound to discuss those differences. That as the scripture says, my “…faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.” {1 Corinthians 2:5}

 

I seem to take one step forward and then three steps back but at least I keep taking that one step forward! As I was thinking on these things one day, I prayed and asked the Lord if leaving the church was the right thing to do and if so that He needed to make it clear to me that it was, that I needed to be bolder for Christ and stop trying to keep one foot in each camp. That was a difficult day and then on my email showed up a woman who I had come to know in our LDS homeschooling community years before. She had been an example to me of a good LDS mother and wife and I had come to her for counsel on more than one occasion regarding homeschooling and other issues in my role as a wife and mother. I thought of her as a Titus 2 woman. “That they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, To be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed.” {Titus 2:4-5} She was a great example of these above characteristics as she emulated them with her husband and her 10 children. When I clicked onto my email that morning, what did I find? This woman whom I admired and respected and had felt led to seek counsel from more than once in my life {and hadn’t heard from for at least a year}, was posting on an email support group telling about her conversion to Jesus Christ and her journey out of the Mormon church! I about fell out of my chair and I knew without a doubt that this was God’s answer to me!  Her joy in the Lord is contagious and she is still that same woman I sought counsel from… the only difference is now she knows Jesus Christ!

 

As I have decided once and for all to remove my name from the records of the church, to take a stand for Jesus Christ and to be an honest person, I have been reminded on more than one occasion that, “…God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. Be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me his prisoner: but be thou partaker of the afflictions of the gospel according to the power of God; Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began, But is now made manifest by the appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ, who hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel;” {2 Timothy 1:7-10}

 

I believe that this is the beginning of a great journey and I would like to thank those who have helped me, everyone who has helped me and stayed up with me all hours of the night answering my questions…talking with me, praying with and for me, fasting for me, emailing me, reading with me, you all know who you are. For my family for loving me, even if we do not agree or believe the same… my brothers are special to me… their love and concern for me and my relationships with them and their families are so important to me and my family. I plan to have many more good times, and great conversations with them…this is just the beginning as I said above.

 

Most importantly I want to thank my husband, a man of integrity, one who has shown me nothing but respect and love throughout this whole process. He has qualities that are rare to find in these days of super-technology and instant everything and there are many ways that I respect and admire him for his work ethic and his dedication and love for our family. While we deal with this time of change, he continues to be supportive and respectful and ever a gentle and patient husband to me and a loving father to our children. While I do not know the future and what lies in store for us and our family, I do know that my gratitude for him is endless. I admire him so much. I am more in love with him now than I was the day we were married. I pray for him daily and for our family.

 

As for me, this is just the beginning… for “There is therefore now no more condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.” {Romans 8:1-2} I do not feel the condemnation anymore, a weight has been lifted, and I am truly free from the law of sin and death!! I am truly free!

 

 

You may contact Stephanie at jeffcolemanfamily@comcast.net

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A big heartfelt thank you to these people below who have been instrumental in my journey and who have helped, prayed, sent materials to me, and just been good friends….

 

Sharon Taylor, my mentor and dear friend- www.westview.cc.org

Jim Spencer of Maze Ministry at www.mazeministry.com,

Glenn Evans from Institute for Religious Research – www.irr.org

Tina from the Momys group! {and her friend who helped lead me to Jesus!}

Scott Peterson from Defending Your Doorstep – www.defendingyourdoorstep.com

Sandra Tanner at www.utlm.org

Ben and Jen Rast at www.contenderministries.org

Janis Hutchinson, IRR mentor at www.irr.org

Fran Sankey with Tower to Truth Ministries at http://www.towertotruth.net/Mormon/mormon_main.htm

 

 

Yes, Jim, there were no Nephites and there IS life after Mormonism!