Valerie Navarrete

Last Sunday night at 5 p.m., I found myself in a place I never expected to be. Not unlike my usual routine, I was at a dining hall table surrounded by my fellow Yalies. It was, nonetheless, a night full of personal firsts. It was my first time in the Timothy Dwight College dining hall, my first time meeting each of the other students who sat around my table, my first time learning about a religion about which I was utterly uneducated. In the private, reserved room upstairs of the Timothy Dwight dining hall, my stark otherness — namely, that I was fundamentally not a part of this group, this family, to which they all belonged — was washed away by smiles and openness, questions and answers.

I sat among a fellow first year, three upperclassmen, two graduate student roommates and a South African student from Quinnipiac University. I felt like a child at the adults’ table, gleaning every bit of tradition and uniqueness I could from the conversation. I knew the routine of their Sunday family dinner was disrupted by my intrusion, but their hospitality was more than abundant. My expectation that they would elaborate on uniquely difficult college experience, as well as my anxiety at being out of place, was quickly dispelled when they began to speak, openly and honestly, about what it means to be Mormon at Yale.

An American Faith

In the spring of 1820, Joseph Smith Jr. prayed about which denomination of his Christian faith to join. After a divine vision, Smith understood his purpose to be the establishment of a new, true Christian Church. Ten years later, he founded the Church of Christ. Built upon the Book of Mormon, which Smith translated himself “by the gift and power of God” from golden plates in a reformed Egyptian language, the new group moved from New York through Ohio and Missouri. The members of Smith’s budding group called themselves both Mormon and Latter-day Saints. With his Book of Mormon under fire from theologians and linguists, Smith took his group to Commerce, Illinois, where escalating tensions between Mormons and non-Mormons culminated in the mob murder of Smith, the self-proclaimed prophet, in 1844. Mormons view the King James Bible and the Book of Mormon as complements of each other: the Book of Mormon providing and correcting omissions and errors from the traditional Christian text.

Brigham Young then took over as the leader of the faith. He took the Mormons to a place that would become the Utah Territory. The controversy around the religion’s acceptance of polygamy and the practice of open marriage rose in the context of both the United States justice system and social acceptance, culminating in church president Wilford Woodruff formally dismantling the practice in 1890.

Around this time, smaller denominations of Mormon fundamentalists began to sprout, and the entirety of the LDS Church initiated an intense missionary program — still active today — of conversion. That practice has helped the religion grow to its present day following of 15 million people. Still faced with an uneasy and skeptical American public, Mormons are committed to their unique commitment to and relationship with a God who protects them from the nonspiritual “worldliness” of daily life.

A plethora of misconceptions often tends to make the American public uncomfortable with the intricacies of Mormonism. This discomfort manifests at Yale as a lack of interest and a nervousness to ask. Likely due to the never-ending fear of offending a classmate, Yale students tend toward small talk instead of delving into deeply personal subjects. If only they would ask, they would hear the stories their Mormon peers so want to divulge.

Finding a Home at Yale

Rather than feeling confined and self-conscious about an identity that could prove out-of-sync with their peers and roommates, many Mormons at Yale feel excited about sharing this little-known distinctiveness.

“You get lots of interesting questions when you come from a unique background,” Claire Thomas ’19 said. They are presented with the opportunity to dispel stereotypes and reestablish people’s understandings of their religion. Sam South ’18 echoes Thomas’ feelings: “Yale cultivates the sharing of differing opinions.”

Even adults who are members of the LDS Church resonate with these messages about the University’s accepting culture: Yale is “not a hypercompetitive or confrontational environment” according to Stuart Campbell, an associate professor for biomedical engineering and cellular and molecular physiology.

“I have always felt that people are deferential about beliefs at Yale. Academically and philosophically, it’s a really safe place,” he added.

The small size of the Mormon community here has allowed it to turn into a family. Like each student who belongs to a specific community within Yale’s large institution, these members of the Latter-day Saints Students Association spend time together — in class, at church, at dinner — feeling comfortable and reassured among familiar faces. “It’s really nice to have multiple communities all at once,” Hunter Craft ’20 said, verbalizing a sentiment that many Yale students share.

There are many folds to the LDSSA, which is comprised of more graduate students than undergraduate Yalies, spanning from formal religious practice to more social gatherings. First, there is Sunday church at the LDS Church very close to campus, at 84 Trumbull St. There is the aforementioned Sunday family dinner, which I was able to attend last weekend, where students convene after Church, some still in their suits and dresses, some changed into typical weekend loungewear. Another formal religious component of the LDSSA is called Institute. The college version of the high school Seminary, Institute is the official study of the Mormon scriptures, guided here by Director of the LDS Institute in New Haven Randy LaRose. Finally, there are frequent weekend social gatherings, often taking place at the graduate students’ apartments. Last weekend’s hang out featured a chili cook-off.

Beyond the intimacy and community that the LDSSA provides for these students, additional things delineate a Mormon’s Yale experience. In a place where drinking and hookup cultures are pervasive, Mormons’ inability to join their peers could be ostracizing. But, this has not proved to be the case with these students.

“People here are incredibly supportive of what you personally believe and what you choose to do. … I’ve been around people who were drinking, and they knew I was coming, and so they got me my own personal sparkling cider [and said,] ‘So this is for Mikayla, so she can drink with us and feel like she’s a part of it, but also no pressure at all!’ … My friends are amazing,” Mikayla Oliver ’21 said.

Thomas said she felt the same: “My friends were always super understanding that I don’t drink alcohol, and I never felt any pressure from them. … If we were doing something together and they were drinking, I felt okay because I knew that they were okay that I wasn’t drinking. So in that sense I don’t feel a tension.”

“There is a lot of drinking at Yale, and sometimes it can be awkward if you’re not [a drinker] — not because people expect you [to], but just because the activity is not designed with you in mind,” Craft explained. “As an upperclassman, it’s easier in a way because people are a bit more chill with what their social agenda is like. … It’s more relaxed. I was worried about that when I was coming here, like, ‘am I going to have no social life because I don’t drink?’ But that turned out to be a false worry.”

This understanding and acceptance goes both ways. “It’s easy for us to judge people based on how we think they should act or speak or go about their lives,” LaRose said. “It’s important for us to look through different lenses in a sense of understanding so that we aren’t guilty of misjudging people.

Contrary to what some Yale students may think, Mormonism at Yale isn’t a simple tale of social conservatism clashing with social liberalism. Sitting at the Sunday family dinner in Timothy Dwight, I ask my hosts how they reconciled Mormonism’s typically traditional beliefs with Yale’s more liberal ones. Craft replies by disassembling that dichotomy, explaining that there’s a vast diversity in the political standings of the Mormons here.

Soren Schmidt LAW ’20, one of the two graduate students at the Sunday dinner, reflected on the stark dichotomy between upbringing and experiences. He admitted that even though he is relatively ideologically consistent with most of the people at Yale, most Mormons are more conservative, especially “out west.”

“And, by virtue of how interconnected Mormons are with each other — everyone has family or close friends that span the ideological spectrum — even if I’m not conservative, I either grew up in a community that’s very conservative or I have family members who are very conservative. Having these people who you know and love and care about come from these different ideological perspectives — even if you yourself don’t ultimately end up with that particular perspective — is really valuable in helping you have an appreciation for where people are coming from. … I think it’s actually an advantage to know and have people that you love who are different from you —”

“— who voted for Donald Trump,” Jason Ray GRD’ 23 interjected, eliciting laughter from some of the others seated at the table.

Schmidt smiles. “Yeah, who voted for people different than you, even if that’s something I would never consider and even am appalled by personally.”

Attending graduate school at Yale is Schmidt’s second experience with being a Latter-day Saint at a university away from his small hometown in Idaho. It is his first, however, at a university in which he is the religious minority. Both Schmidt and his roommate Ray attended Brigham Young University, completely owned and operated by the LDS Church, in Provo, Utah. Ninety-nine percent of the student body at BYU is Mormon. Schmidt loved both experiences, explaining that BYU was comfortable and enriching for both himself and his faith, whereas Yale is broadening. “The combination,” he says, “is rich and all-encompassing.” Ray concurred that though he had thought it would be difficult to study in an environment with so few Mormons, he has been “pleasantly surprised.”

For both Craft and Oliver, however, the desire for a college education at a formally religious institution was not as present. “I knew I wanted to go somewhere that wasn’t BYU,” Craft said, “and that worked out for the best.” Craft did acknowledge that in his college search, he was surprised to find himself scrolling through the Yale website to learn about how many Mormons walked this campus. Oliver wasn’t opposed to attending BYU, but he said, “I wanted to challenge myself in a setting outside of Mormonism to see how I’d change and grow without so much immediate [religious] support. I think this experience really makes or breaks what you believe: it definitely made mine.”

LaRose also talks about this experience: “My main goal is help them stay strong in what they believe but be willing to look through some different lenses.”

On a Mission

One of the major commitments that college-age Mormons must make to their faith is to be a missionary. Typically taking place around the age of 18 or 19, these missions are a various combination of proselytizing, community service, church aid and humanitarian work. It traditionally lasts 18 months to two years and often takes place in a foreign country, during which missionaries may call home only twice a year. Missionary placements, or mission calls, as they are formally known, are determined by the Church. It notifies the missionary to-be of the time and the location of the assignment, as well as the language the student is expected to learn and speak.

Craft, Thomas, South, Schmidt and Ray have all taken missions. Students take a two-year leave of absence and then are reinstated as a student upon arrival back to the school. The Yale administration knows how it works, as there have been enough missionaries for this to be a semi-streamlined process. Craft, Thomas and South, who each took their missions as undergraduates at Yale, spoke about the difficulty of returning to school with friends who were seniors or graduates. For them, however, the benefits far outweighed the social readjustment demanded. The intense and immersive experience presented students with opportunities for learning that they believe Yale could not have provided through a traditional four-year career. Thomas, who took her mission to Russia, said “being older with more time to get grounded before you act” coupled with the “practical skills learned” helped make her time at Yale more efficient and enjoyable. Craft described it as “a way to recenter around religion.” South believes he is a much better student, thinking more long-term.

LaRose gives an additional reflection on what it means for missionaries. “It’s unique, gives them a unique advantage by having this different culture and language and learning to love and see people for who they are as they pursue knowledge in this kind of a university,” he said. “It helps them see what matters most. … [It’s] about what you can contribute spiritually to the world.”

Luke Sanford ’18 had a distinctive experience as a missionary that made his new life at Yale far more complicated than the one he had left. Arriving back in New Haven from his mission married — and subsequently living off-campus rather than in Trumbull — Sanford found his priorities reoriented. He organized to spend as much time at home, and now, with a five-week-old baby girl, he is far busier than any Yale student could even imagine. “My priorities [are] a little bit different than some students, … and I have a little bit of regret about what I missed out on. But, I have a firm understanding that I dedicated my time to something really valuable: my family,” Sanford said.

Questioning faith?

“Mormonism encourages you to find out [what you believe] for yourself as you grow up,” Craft said. Each student who reflected upon their relationship with their faith during their time at and before Yale has come to this conclusion: Part of this demanding faith is an existential questioning about what, how and why each of them believes.

For Ray, that is “moving forward without all the answers, looking at beliefs more critically … and maturely in college. The result is that I do believe this.” For Schmidt, it’s a comfort in the dialectical, dynamic process of figuring things out: “Questions and concerns are seen as constructive.” For Craft, he decided to read the Book of Mormon for himself. “I determined that I believe in this. I accept smaller things as a bigger picture that I can’t understand.”

Sanford elaborated: “It can be easy to flow and not really personally progress. I firmly believe in the teachings of the church. … When I don’t do these things, I can feel a void. When I don’t understand why, that’s when I go back and just pray and do a simple investigation of more core beliefs that I know to be true. … I’m always able to find a solution and find peace.”

Even the older Mormons who guide these students are able to reflect on their connection to, and doubts about, the faith to which they belong.

“I have a core nucleus that I’ve been taught and that I’ve corroborated with my own experiences. Other, more outer ideas are what can be questioned. Receiving answers for my prayers is a stable basis [for believing],” Campbell said. “I have a 25-year study of LDS theology. You don’t abandon something after that long because you don’t understand one thing.” LaRose is firm in his aim to help his students walk alone spiritually, as this is the first time many of them are getting off the religious “piggy-back” of mom and dad and tradition.

LaRose, Campbell and Sanford encourage this questioning and affirming of beliefs amongst the younger students. “We honor people’s freedom to choose,” LaRose said. “We certainly will have open arms and open hearts.”

Each of them was able to respond personally when I asked about how they plan to raise their own children. “It would be extremely painful if they decided not to follow the faith, … but there is a freedom to choose, an agency,” Campbell said. “There’s enough opposition that you wouldn’t do it if there were no benefits, so I want my kids to feel those same benefits using the toolkit that I have successfully used to navigate hardship.”

Sanford shares similar insight, despite being such a new parent.

“The Church has brought me some of the greatest happiness of my life, and all I want for my kids is happiness, but … restricting them in that sense could provide some major negative ramifications in the future. We are trying to find that balance between guiding with love and shepherding them into what we believe to be the best possible way, while still allowing them the freedom to choose.”

Shayna Elliot .

  • libmo

    Very interesting article. Thank you.

  • Liz

    This article has one important omission of fact:
    The chili cook off had a winner and the winner was me.
    Thank you.

    • AuntSue

      Well Done and Good Eating at Your House!

  • Tornogal

    The saddest aspect of Mormonism is its hypocrisy. While it verbalizes being all about the family, it is so only so long as every member of the family stay committed to the faith. Don’t believe me? Do an internet search on “exmormons” and read some of the heartbreaking tales of marriages having been destroyed or family members being ostracized when one or more members discovered any number of inconvenient facts, like:

    – There is no record anywhere of the language the Golden Plates, “Reformed Egyptian.”

    – Joseph Smith used a magic rock and a hat to translate the Book of Mormon, the same combination he used earlier to swindle neighbors of their money by promising to find hidden treasure on their property.

    – Science Magazine published in January an amazing story supporting the fact that zero archaeological evidence has ever been found for the Book of Mormon and its fantastic claims of ancient American civilizations.

    – The Book of Mormon is a hoax

    – Another Mormon scripture, the Book of Abraham, is an equal hoax

    And the list goes on and on…

    How ironic that Yale’s motto is “Light and Truth.”

    • Trollmuncher

      Tornogal, I’m sorry if you experienced such heartbreak. Although I have seen some unfortunate and inappropriate reactions to members who leave the church, I know dozens of families who have treated such individuals with love and kindness. For every case of hypocrisy, there are many cases of love.

      As for your facts, I won’t get into those. I’ll just say that my belief in the Book of Mormon has never been based on archeological evidence. If there was proof, it would lessen the value of faith, which is one of the main pillars of Book of Mormon’s message.

      I hope you find fulfillment in your search for light and truth.

      • Tornogal


        Of course your faith in the Book of Mormon isn’t based on archaeological evidence. No reasonable person’s could be.

        And by the same token, billions of Muslims believe just as fervently in the Quran.

    • verysoreloser

      C’mon now, it took more than a rock and a hat to produce the Book of Mormon, and it’s production was way beyond the abilities of an uneducated farm boy.

      How about a link to the Science mag article

    • RiffDog2

      Each of your dot points is an old and stale polemic, having been argued and rebutted endlessly since the early 1800s. Try what the author of this fine article did when she decided to learn about the Mormon religion: she didn’t turn to the Internet; she sat down and talked with those who live it.

      • Tornogal

        Oh I have RiffGog2 (spoken with plenty of Mormons). And in my experience they are no more devoted to their faith than are many great Muslims, Jews, or Baptists. And each is convinced just as fervently that theirs is the right way.

        Stale polemic? Sounds like a dodge. And maybe that’s why only about two tenths of one percent of the world has bought into Mormonism. The Book of Mormon is fiction. The Book of Abraham was a hoax. Joseph Smith was a con man.

        • TruBluAm

          If those of other faiths are so devoted then why don’t they spend years of their lives, at their own expense, going out into the world telling others about it? And how many of the ministers of those other faiths serve without pay, as do Mormon bishops? And, why would Joseph Smith submit himself to so much persecution, without monitory reward, if he wasn’t doing what the Lord called him to do? He gave his life for the Lord and we appreciate what he has done. As far as numbers, you probably won’t be around to see the growth that has been predicted, not by LDS, but by scholars – it will fill the earth!

          • Tornogal


            People of other faiths do exactly that. Can you count the number of religious devotees who have taken oaths of poverty for other faiths? Mormons are not unique in that.

            But Mormons do have two ruling bodies of leaders who pay themselves “living allowances,” the amounts of which neither you nor any other rank and file member of the LDS church is allowed to know. Why do you suppose those amounts are kept secret?

            It will fill the Earth? I doubt it. The growth rate of the LDS church in 2016 (the last year for which statistics are available) was its lowest in 80 years.

          • Talonos

            A recent leak showed the “living stipend” granted to the Quorum of the 12. It’s an embarrassingly large amount when viewed through the lens of the third world countries we proselyte in, but it’s about the same as a median salary of a full-time pastor in a protestant church with 6-10 years of experience in a church with 1500-2000 people. (

            In other words, their “salary” isn’t CLOSE to being competitive with top leaders in other “Megachurches”.

            And it’s an obvious step down from being a heart surgeon or an airline pilot. I bet every one of them took a “pay cut” when transitioning to full-time ecclesiastical work.

        • Joseph K.

          For someone who is not bitter you seem rather fixated….

      • Bradley Beer

        How about read the Book of Mormon? It’s boring, sure, but full of obvious idiocy.

    • Fee-fi-fo-fum

      And what a great motto this is…here’s hoping that perhaps someday you will find it.

      • Tornogal

        Right back at you, Fee.

    • Minjae_Lee

      Tornogal, your bitterness must be a very difficult burden to bear. I pray you can find peace. God bless you. Go to Him in humble prayer and He will help you.

      • Tornogal


        I am commenting on an online article. It’s clear you do not agree with my views. So be it.

        And perhaps labeling those who disagree with you as “bitter” helps you process the fact that not everyone accepts Mormonism for what it claims to be. But my family, friends, and associates would all tell you I am not bitter at all. But I do think I am informed. I wish the same for you.

      • ldffly

        No not bitterness. Every orthodox Christian will have similar disputes with the teachings of the Mormon Church.

    • AuntSue

      Sad that you have relied on non and ex Mormons for your views. I hope one day you will really want to know about Mormonism and your personal relationship with your God.

      • Tornogal

        I would be curious as to your view on why many Mormons become ex-Mormons.

        • ShadrachSmith

          It takes a devotion to God, family, and duty that most of us can’t quite manage.

          • Tornogal

            So people leave because they can’t live up to it. Interesting.

            That is so at odds of so many who have posted their reasons for leaving the LDS church. Most of them report they discovered that the LDS church isn’t what it presents itself as, and THAT led them to leave.

            I wonder why they–in your mind–were lying.

        • disasterdave

          The answer is quite simple. These people want to do things that the church teaches are not right and that consternation creates tremendous angst. My question is, why belong to an organization that teaches doctrine contrary to what you really want to do?

          • Tornogal


            Please see my response above to “GovernmentTramplesRights.”

            People say they are leaving because they discovered the LDS church is based on a con. People can do an internet search on “Why I left the LDS church” or “Why I left the Mormon church” and read for themselves.

        • GovernmentTramplesRights

          The vast majority are probably apostasy and immorality. Then they have to rationalize their behaviors and “kick against the pricks” because they can’t let it alone. They just have to keep kicking and kicking, instead of getting on with their lives.

          • Tornogal

            And on what do you base that “the vast majority [of people leaving the Mormon church are doing so out of [apostasy and immorality]”? Or is that just your way of rationalizing that people have come to conclusions you don’t care for?

            It is understandable that faithful Mormons just can’t process the notion that they are part of a hoax. Smith was a con man. His original purpose in publishing the Book of Mormon was to sell it for profit. That’s why he sent Hyrum Page and Oliver Cowdery to Toronto, Canada.

            The Book of Abraham is an abject work of fiction.

            There were nine versions recorded of Smith’s “First Vision.”

            People are researching and discovering these and many more things the LDS church would prefer people ignore. Gordon Hinckley referred to them as “little flecks of history” in his interview with Mike Wallace on national television.

            As people come to the correct understanding that Mormonism is a sad, all-consuming hoax they are leaving. That is what I am reading.

          • Talonos


            This link is a leaked presentation from church advisers to the 12 apostles. In it, they outline a list of reasons why people are leaving the church and propose action. It seems that both immorality AND historical issues are only a couple of the many reasons people are leaving.

            Because this is a leaked document referencing an internal study, we have no way of knowing their survey methodology, etc. But it’s also the closest thing to a cited source I’ve seen so far in this discussion. 😛

            Toringal: Keep in mind that your “sources” have a strong self-selection bias. People who wander away from the church because they want “something more” are much less likely to post angry rants about it than people who feel like they’ve been taken advantage of their whole life. I’d trust the LDS church’s private, internal, damage control studies more than a collection of anecdotes on the exmormon reddit.

          • Tornogal

            I am not relying on “exmormon reddit,” but that’s besides the point.

            I don’t know that I would trust internal analysis of the LDS church given to the Q12. My sense is there is likely a lot of posturing among staff in their communications/briefings to the Q12, so I suspect many aspiring LDS church employees would want to be the bringer of good news vs. bad news.

            But more importantly, looking at the link you provided (and maybe I’m missing something) the only thing I see is one slide with 17 colored bubbles. There is no data reference, no sample size, no statistical analysis. Is that what you are basing your assertion on?

            There is ample first-person testimony available with a search “Why I left the LDS church,” “Why I left the Mormon church,” “Why I left the Mormon faith,” etc. Those come across VERY credibly to me.

          • Talonos

            Up to you, I guess. I see a very obvious self-selection bias when you rely on anecdotes like that.

            As for the power-point: while the slides DO lack methodology notes, etc, you wouldn’t need those on an internal presentation. Ethos is already established. I’d assume studies exist even if they’re not referenced in the slides. With the recent downturn of church growth, you can bet that church officials are spending many man-hours trying to figure out why and do appropriate damage control. This powerpoint reflects the church’s “cliff notes version” of their best efforts to document these problems. That’s why I think it’s more reliable than a bunch of disparate narratives on the internet.

            I mean, unless *you*can find a robust survey and statistical analysis. (I’d actually be quite interested in that. Maybe pew survey has something?)

          • Talonos

            Ahah! Found one!


            The two most common issues, tied for first, are ““I felt judged or misunderstood.” and “I did not trust the Church leadership to tell the truth surrounding controversial or historical issues.”

            There. No “vast majority” holds any given reason for leaving. Controversial historical issues are a big deal, but “feeling judged” is just as a big of a deal. (While some part of that probably includes the church disapproving of sinful lifestyles, there are a lot of other reasons why people might feel judged that don’t have anything to do with a desire to engage in sin.)

            I’m gonna bookmark this person’s site; I’m quite interested in the full report she’s hoping to release at the end of the month.

    • blob

      Your judgement of Mormon families is plainly at odds with reality. While not perfect (what is?) the Mormons are, as everyone knows, rightly famous for strong families and family values. As your comment illustrates, the miraculous elements of Mormon history are as vulnerable to ridicule and misrepresentation as any other faith…including most of Christianity. For those honestly looking for truth there is a library of anti-Mormon writings and also a library of intelligent pro-Mormon apologetics to be compared. Example?…..the ‘Light and Truth’ in the thoughts of the young Mormons in this piece compared with your assertions.

      • Tornogal

        “As everyone knows” is an unfounded assertion, “blob.”

        There is nothing I posted that is a “misrepresentation.”

        I encourage people to look at LDS websites. And then to do other research as well. And from the looks of Mormon retention rates, they are.

        • GovernmentTramplesRights

          See above.

      • Bradley Beer

        Liar. The LDS Church doesn’t support families with gay parents.

    • Joseph M

      RE archaeological evidence.

      With passages of the BoM that this discovery supports.

      Note: I don’t claim this as proof, merely a refutation of the claim of ‘no evidence’.

    • GovernmentTramplesRights

      First, I would simply observe that, as a CPA, I have on occasion worked on the tax return for leaders of the Church, and while I could/would never state anything belying that confidence, I can assure you that their living allowance is a small fraction of what they were earning professionally, before they committed themselves to full time Church service.

      Please, please. I don’t know who Tornogal is, or her relationship to this article. I would simply like to observe that of the comments above. Regrettably, the internet has no truth filter. And so all sorts of things may be found published online. Each one of the allegations above is false, except the first one above about there being no record anywhere of the language “reformed Egyptian” for which I do not know the answer as a fact. For the rest of the assertions, the evidences of the facts as represented by the Church are overwhelming, and if anyone were to truly put the scientific method to test each one of those assertions, they would find Science Magazine and other assertions to be without merit or unprovable by the scientific method, and fully supported by all evidences. Finally, any humble honest seeker of truth can discover for himself the truth of all things, if he will study them, ponder them, test them, and then ask God himself, with a sincere heart, with real intent, if certain things are not true, and God will manifest it to him in an unmistakable manner, in such a way that he knows personally and undeniably the truth of these things. But, don’t expect a million-dollar answer from a 10-cent prayer, or study effort, or pondering.

      Also, in criticisms, please don’t expect perfection from us as individuals, for if you did, then we should be entitled to expect perfection from you, and I don’t believe any individual is up to that standard.

  • RaymondSwenson

    The fact that intelligent Mormons attend Yale and teach there should help you realize that there are intelligent responses to the criticisms of Tornogal. The article did not mention that, apart from a few dozen full time leaders in Salt Lake, Mormons don’t get paid for church service, including the two years they serve as missionaries. They do it out of sincere belief and love for God and humanity, whether in Russia, Mexico, Japan, or Ghana.

    You can find out how Mormons answer their critics at and see what Mormons teach each other at, the official web site of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. You can also see the research by Professor Ram Cnaan at University of Pennsylvania, which found that Mormons are the most generous people in America with their time as well as resources. You can find the research that places Brigham Young University ahead of Yale in BS graduates who go on to earn PhDs in science. You can read in Forbes about the concentration of high tech companies in Utah founded and run by Mormon computer and science nerds. You can learn that the president of the church, Russell Nelson, MD, PhD, is a world renowned pioneer of open heart surgery and inventor of the heart-lung machine. The other Mormon apostles who lead nearly 16 million people worldwide include a Yale PhD who served as president of BYU, a University of Chicago law professor who founded BYU’s nationally ranked law school and was chair of PBS, and a Harvard PhD who taught organizational management at Stanford.

    The Mormons are clearly not stupid. And they are not evil or selfish. You owe it to yourself to find out from them what they actually believe, and why people join them in over a hundred nations.

    • Tornogal


      Has the LDS church published exactly how much the “Quorum of the Twelve” or the “First Presidency” pay themselves? And of course the answer is no.

      And I strongly encourage people to visit and And maybe even fairmormon. And then I suggest they visit mormonthink(dot)com or simply do an internet search on the problems with Mormonism. Then they can decide for themselves whether Mormonism is what it claims to be. And time would be well spent watching the satirical youtube videos by Brother Jake, an apparent member of the LDS church.

      Mormons are “the most generous people in America” only when one includes the 10% tithing Mormons are expected to pay to the Corporation of the President, one for which there is zero accounting provided; and only when one counts the thousands of hours of service to the LDS church itself, hours that include counting receipts every Sunday by finance clerks and hours spent in incessant meetings (presidency meetings, BYC, BYD, correlation meetings, ward mission planning meetings, stake training meetings, stake correlation meetings, quorum meetings, welfare committee meetings, in-service meetings, and on and on). When measured in true charitable service I doubt Mormons are much different from any other group.

      And Russell Nelson did NOT invent the heart lung machine. Please do not say he did.

      But we agree on one point. People would do well to research about the Mormon faith. And they are. And that’s why people–as Elder Jensen acknowledged–are leaving the LDS church “in droves.”

      • Ed Dado Klinche

        Your “incessant” meeting times does not square with LDS donating the same (time is money) as everyone else. Do you see the poor logic of your point?

        • Tornogal

          You are missing the point.

          While most denominations donate a sizable portion of their money to soup kitchens, homeless shelters, and other activities that directly benefit the poor, Mormons count as charitable donations money that goes to “the Corporation of the President,” for which their is zilch accountability.

          This from BusinessWeek:

          According to an official church Welfare Services fact sheet, the church gave $1.3 billion in humanitarian aid in more than 178 countries and territories during the 25 years between 1985 and 2010. A fact sheet from the previous year indicates that less than one-third of the sum was monetary assistance, while the rest was in the form of “material assistance.” All in all, if one were to evenly distribute that $1.3 billion over a quarter-century, it would mean that the church gave $52 million annually. A study co-written by Cragun and recently published in Free Inquiry estimates that the Mormon Church donates only about 0.7 percent of its annual income to charity; the United Methodist Church gives about 29 percent.

          As to time given, my point is completely logical. Attendance at incessant meetings inflates dramatically the amount of time Mormons claim to be devoting to “charitable” causes. Ask a Baptist how much she spends on charitable activities and she will tally up the time she spent at the soup kitchen and volunteering at a homeless shelter. Ask a Mormon, and she will count the same activities in her tally. And she will likely include Relief Society planning meetings, stake planning meetings, ward council, and so on.

    • Lynda Wilson

      Link to professor Ram Cnann’s research? Please.

    • ldffly

      I don’t question the intellect of Mormons. I knew some incredibly learned and capable people while I was at Yale. The late Prof. Rulon Wells of the Yale Philosophy Department was a Mormon; he was a descendant of Brigham Young. He had more raw intellectual capacities than any human being I’ve ever seen. What’s more, he was one of the most honorable men I’ve ever met.

    • Bradley Beer

      Mormons aren’t necessarily stupid, but they do have stupid beliefs. There is nothing to do but laugh and demand evidence when Mormons claim that Israelites landed in North America ~589 BCE, for example.

      • ShadrachSmith

        Ds believe Obama is scandal free and Hillary is honest. So, right back at’cha.

        • ethanjrt

          *taps knee with rubber hammer*

          Everything’s still working fine.

  • ben1

    This was a well-written article, and an enjoyable read. The author has a very nice writing style. I appreciated the honest representation of the Mormon faith by the author and those who were interviewed. Personally, I also found value in addition to challenges in attending a university as a religious minority/Mormon. The insights in the article were pretty representative of my experience. I’m grateful for my faith and the hope and truth it offers. I’m likewise grateful for honest and accepting friends and family outside and inside of this faith.

  • wert48

    Thanks, Tornogal for helping create more interest in the LDS Church! We know there are a few folks like you that troll sites just so you can provide your own hypocrisy about light and truth. With all your supposed learning, you have not understood that in life, drawing attention, even “negative” or misleading, to a particular thing- helps to attract the interest of others to it. So, thanks!

    • Tornogal


      LOL. What complex psychology you’re using!

      You’re very welcome. I wonder how many investigators will read this thread and go “Oh my! There must be truth in that church, because someone posted critical thoughts.”

      My guess is about zero.

      But a few might do an internet search on “Problems with Mormonism,” or “Mormonism fraud.” I hope they do.

      • Talonos

        I know of at least one.

        She heard I was Mormon, and wanted to know what that was about. She went to the internet, did some searches, and found some highly anti-Mormon literature. She was confused, because the descriptions she read didn’t match what she knew about me, my beliefs, and my behavior.

        Finally, one day she asked me, “Why does everybody hate Mormons so bad?” After some thought, I proffered my best guess: I explained it was probably because most Christians objected to our view of deification and considered it to be a violation of the first of the ten commandments. (This was in 2004 before the whole prop 8 thing; I’d answer that question differently these days, lol.)

        At any rate, we started talking about the plan of salvation, why people would object to it, and why I believed it. She requested to meet with the missionaries. Three years later, she was baptized. Six years later, she went on a mission. Two years after that, she married in the temple. I’ve lost contact with her, but from what I understand, she’s still faithful LDS.

        I’ve often wondered what would have happened if she had found a bland collection of facts instead of over-the-top, spiteful, hateful essays decrying the church. She may have never asked about it. I think the anti-Mormon sites she found were instrumental to her conversion.

        To be fair, I DO think you’re doing more harm to the church than good. But your guess of “zero” is at least one person off. 😉

  • Tornogal


    It’s that kind of convoluted reasoning that I think helps people stay in Mormonism.

    Let’s try it another way: Can you point to any non-LDS scholar who agrees the Book of Mormon is a nonfictional record of ancient Americans?

    • Bot

      “I can only attribute to Joseph Smith’s genius or heavenly intervention his uncanny recovery of many elements in ancient Jewish theurgy* that had ceased to be available either to Judaism or to Christianity, and that had survived only in esoteric traditions unlikely to have touched Smith directly.”

      Prof. Harold Bloom
      Yale University
      in The American Religion

      * the working of a divine or supernatural agency in human affairs.

      • Tornogal

        On the Book of Mormon:

        “With the exception of Latter-day Saint archaeologists, members of the archaeological profession do not, and never have, espoused the Book of Mormon in any sense of which I am aware. Non-Mormon archaeologists do not allow the Book of Mormon any place whatever in their reconstruction of the early history of the New World.”

        – Ulster Archaeological Society Newsletter, no. 64, Jan. 30, 1960, p.3

        “Let me know state uncategorically that as far as I know there is not one professionally trained archaeologist, who is not a Mormon, who sees any scientific justification for believing the foregoing to be true,…nothing, absolutely nothing, has ever shown up in any New World excavation which would suggest to a dispassionate observer that the Book of Mormon… is a historical document relating to the history of early migrants to our hemisphere.”

        – Michael Coe, Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Summer 1973, pp. 42, 46

        “I’m afraid that up to this point, I must agree with Dee Green, who has told us that to date there is no Book-of-Mormon geography…. you can’t set Book of Mormon geography down anywhere – because it is fictional and will never meet the requirements of the dirt-archaeology.”

        – Thomas S. Ferguson, Mormon archaeologist, and author of Quest for the Gold Plates, “Letter to Mr. and Mrs. H.W. Lawrence,” dated Feb. 20, 1976

        On the Book of Abraham:

        Egyptologist James H. Breasted of the University of Chicago:

        “[T]hese three facsimiles of Egyptian documents in the ‘Pearl of Great Price’ depict the most common objects in the Mortuary religion of Egypt. Joseph Smith’s interpretations of them as part of a unique revelation through Abraham, therefore, very clearly demonstrates that he was totally unacquainted with the significance of these documents and absolutely ignorant of the simplest facts of Egyptian writing and civilization.”

        Flinders Petrie of London University:

        “It may be safely said that there is not one single word that is true in these explanations”

        Archibald Sayce, Oxford professor of Egyptology:

        “It is difficult to deal seriously with Joseph Smith’s impudent fraud …. Smith has turned the goddess [Isis in Facsimile No. 3] into a king and Osiris into Abraham.”

    • GovernmentTramplesRights

      What you ask is almost like asking the impossible. There are many non-LDS scholars that have proven the Book of Mormon to be a nonfictional record of ancient Americans and to be true, but they do not remain a non-LDS scholar, for they quickly follow their consciences and join themselves with the Church. So, how would we find a non-LDS scholar who believes it to be false? A better question would be, Can anyone point to anyone that has proven the Book of Mormon to be anything other than what it claims to be? No.

      • Tornogal

        Great. Give me your list of “many.”

        • GovernmentTramplesRights

          Gimme a break! You’re asking me to provide a list of names??? You’re cherry-picking your quotes and aren’t a sincere seeker of truth. There are thousands of Mormon PhDs in the sciences, MDs, Engineers, Lawyers, many at the top echelons of academia, business, the sciences, etc. You probably have at least one professor there at Yale who is a convert to the LDS faith.

          • Tornogal

            I don’t dispute that there are many good Mormons who are in the sciences, engineers, lawyers, etc. So are lots of Jews, Muslims, Catholics, Baptists, and Agnostics.

            But you said “There are many non-LDS scholars that have proven the Book of Mormon to be a nonfictional record of ancient Americans…” That’s a very different claim, and I am asking you to support it. (But I doubt you can.)

          • Liz

            I’m 80% sure that Tornogal does not go to Yale. 60% sure she(?) never has.
            But I think all the LDS professors at Yale are the “born and raised” variety.

          • GovernmentTramplesRights

            My point was that, even if of the “born and raised” variety, every person must become “converted” (a word I specifically chose in my reply to Tornogal) on their own at some point in their life, regardless of education level. Anyone with a post-graduate education has been exposed to enough theories, regardless of discipline through campus discussions, that virtually any “scholar” who found the Book of Mormon to be true would not stay non-LDS for long.

          • GovernmentTramplesRights

            BTW Liz, I have found your comments are various articles to make many valuable points and insights. Please keep commenting. And send us some of your Chili!

  • Bot

    Mormonism is the restoration of New Testament Christianity. Catholics and Protestants follow Creedal Christianity. Here are the differences:

    1. Baptism by immersion by the father (who has the authority) of the family
    2. Lay clergy

    3. Baptism by proxy for deceased ancestors
    4. God and Jesus organized the world, rather than creatio ex nihilo.
    5. Belief in a tripartite anthropomorphic Godhead
    6. Belief in theosis or divinization (that faithful Christians can acquire god-like attributes).

    7. Belief in sacred esoteric ordinances which allow faithful Christians to ascend to the highest heaven. Cyril, Bishop of Jerusalem, administered these ordinances until 350 AD.

    8. Belief in Eternal Marriage, as recorded in the Book of the Apostle Philip.

    • ldffly

      Thanks for this. Yes, there are substantial differences in doctrine between Mormonism on the one hand and Roman and Protestant Christianity on the other.

    • Exilic

      Creedal Catholic Christianity believes in theosis. Always has. The doctrine was never lost, so there was no need for it to be restored.

      Cyril of Jerusalem was a Creedal Catholic bishop. The esoteric ordinances he describes in his ‘Mystagogical Lectures’ are the Catholic rites of initiation – baptism, confirmation, Eucharist – the same rites used to this day to initiate new Catholics into the Church. In fact, before describing those ordinances, he goes point by point through an explication of the Nicene Creed.

  • ShadrachSmith

    Eurythmics: Missionary Man

    I lived in SLC some years and admire the Mormons. One unintended consequence was my lawyer daughter and her farmer husband converted to LDS. Did some reading; LDS church is good stuff, at least they’re not vegans.

    • wonder_woman

      Well, it MIGHT be “good stuff” when they’re not baptizing dead Jews and supporting anti-LGBT movements.

      • ShadrachSmith

        I define good stuff as devotion to God, family, and duty. Serving others is the only path meaning, and rituals affirm that devotion. You are free to define good stuff as you will.

        • wonder_woman

          I’m not sure how disrespecting people’s religious beliefs or threatening their civil and human rights qualifies as “serving others.

      • heavensdoor

        They don’t just baptize dead jews..they baptized all of my presbetarian dead folks on my maternal side. I saw the paperwork myself. I was stunned that anyone would have the audacity to do this. This is actually common practice as part of their quest of massive genealogy pursuits. I was really offended by these papers showing what they had done..but after some thinking about it..I just thought ..they really have no power to baptize anyone..but still..offensive and brassy. I do admire their family closeness and how they put their family activities first..but they certainly do not seem to want friendships outside of other Mormons.

  • Goldie ’08

    I only knew a handful of mormons when I was a freshman at yale, but by the time I was a senior I didn’t know any.

    • Ed Dado Klinche

      Did you go to a lot of drinking parties, or simply tailor your relationships to more exclusive ties, which sounds natural?

      • Goldie ’08

        My point was that they stopped being Mormon…

  • samsponge

    Let Mormons fight the “one true religion” thing out with the Catholics and Southern Baptists. Throw in a little Jehovah, Luther and Calvin. Don’t forget the Jews and Muslims. And, while your at it, thank your lucky stars our forefathers did their best to keep these jokers out of our Government. Anyone with a brain in their head needs to remember the Steven Weinberg quote: “Religion is an insult to human dignity. Without it you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes Religion.”

    • Rick Asante

      And for evil people to do good things, that takes Religion. So, where are we at?

  • 700 Club

    @Tornogal:disqus There are many way to gain knowledge in this life. Most of us tend to rely 100% on our minds to achieve knowledge, rightfully so. Generally, our reasoning and critical thinking abilities are great tools in helping us learn and acquire knowledge. God wants us to develop our mental power but he also wants us to develop our spiritual power. We can gain great knowledge in this life via spiritual experiences. Think this is hocuspocus? Let’s apply the the scientific method to it. State your hypothesis (maybe yours could be: Knowledge cannot be gained by spiritual experiences). Now, set to disprove/prove the null hypothesis by a simple test. Read the Book of Mormon with an attempt at being open to spiritual “experiences” as you do so (one of the qualifications for gaining knowledge from spiritual experiences is that of having “faith” for which a prerequisite is hope, therefore while you’re doing this experiment, try to hope that spiritual experiences will come your way. Also add “Sincere Prayer” to your test). Objectively record your thoughts/feelings/experiences over time. And viola, you’ve just successful disproved or proved via the scientific method whether or not knowledge can come from spiritual experiences. Interestingly enough, the scientific method approach is quite nearly the exact method that God recommends (See Moroni 10:3-5).

    • Tornogal


      I have prayerfully read the Book of Mormon six times. I now find it to be a poorly written storybook with large blocks of text plagiarized from the Bible.

      So by your measure I guess I have successfully proved what I suspected all along. Mormonism is a fraud.

      • Ed Dado Klinche

        Tornogal: is the Bible true? That would reflect on a lot of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. Plagiarized or not.
        Also, do you know about 2nd Nephi and the Septuagint? You might want to read up on that six or more times. Just saying.
        Best of luck.

        • Tornogal

          LOL. Regarding 2 Nephi and the Septuagint, “Any conclusion about the relationship between Isaiah 2:16 and 2 Nephi 12:16 is for most people a matter of faith—as is acceptance of the Book of Mormon in general—not just a matter of textual analysis. People who accept the authenticity of the Book of Mormon typically favor an explanation for the form of 2 Nephi 12:16 that other people reject, although Latter-day Saint explanations regarding this matter cannot now be substantiated by the available comparative biblical textual evidence alone.”

          The source? BYU’s own Maxwell Institute.

    • wonder_woman

      Except that’s not really how the scientific method works. As soon as I read this statement: “you’ve just successfully disproved or proved via the scientific method whether or not knowledge can come from spiritual experiences” I rolled my eyes. The scientific method is not about “proving” something; it’s about determining whether or not your hypothesis is supported by data.

  • Ed Dado Klinche

    Thanks for the well written and thoughtful article. We need more of these.

  • Bradley Beer

    It takes 2 minutes questioning Mormonism to realize that ancient Israelites never sailed to North America.

  • Rob

    I expect that I am fairly typical in that I think Mormonism is a ridiculous cult but I don’t care any more about it than I do if someone is gay or smokes pot. The difference with the latter is that they don’t come to my door and try to sell it to me. Each time the Mormons come, I am more rude than the last. Four or five times now I have told them to take my address off of their calling list. And yet, still they come.

    I have wondered if, as and atheist who believes Mormonism is an absurd and abusive cult, how they would feel if i did show up on their porch, trying to sell my beliefs. Do you suppose I would be welcome? Do I need a sign outside that says “no Mormons.” Anybody know where I can get one?

    • Tornogal

      Ask any former Mormon how the social rules aren’t even, even within families.

      Those who leave are very often not permitted to discuss their newfound realities and the basis for them in the presence of those who remain. But those who still believe are absolutely allowed to continue to talk about LDS church business and activities in the presence of anyone and everyone.

    • Bill Cattell

      That’s the easiest solution… Just post a note on your door saying ‘No religious discussions’ or something to that effect.

    • Talonos

      Hi, former missionary here. Here are some tips to not get contacted:

      We don’t have “call lists,” so to speak, like the JWs do. The exception is is if you were previously a member of the church; in that case, your name is “on the records” and there’s a process to get it removed that any number of ex-mormons can help you with. Until you do, you’ll regularly have missionaries, home teachers, bishops, etc, showing up to ask why you’ve left and if there’s anything they can do to help you come back.

      Missionaries only stay in an area for 6-18 weeks before being transferred to a different area, so there’s a lot of “churn.” Chances are, each time you were visited, it was by a different set of missionaries who weren’t given very clear direction from their predecessors. These visits could be happenstance: if you happen to live close to a missionary apartment, you’re likely to have your door randomly knocked on a lot because missionaries are only allowed occasional use of motor vehicles and so tend to over-proselyte areas within walking distance.

      On the other hand, sometimes area missionaries keep a record called an “area book” with hints regarding people who might be interested but haven’t been followed up on yet. Sometimes, after following up, missionaries will forget to record the results of the follow-up visit. If you WERE in there, they’ve probably already taken you out because it’s similar enough to a “call list” they’d know what you were talking about. But you still might want to explicitly ask about it. Ask them if they heard of you from their “Area book”. If they say they did, ask them to write a note next to your entry saying you’re actively hostile and that contacting you again will do more harm to their cause than good.

      Finally, the “No mormons” sign is actually not a bad idea. We ran into a bunch of these in Georgia, and we liked them. They were like flags on landmines, protecting us from verbal abuse.

      With some rare exceptions, we don’t like being sworn at any more than you like us knocking on your door, and if we know you’ll be irate when we contact you, we probably won’t: We have better things to do than annoy you. The problem is that inter-missionary communication is REALLY bad.

      Best of luck! I hope missionaries stop bothering you soon, both for your sake and theirs!

  • stan0301

    In my profession I meet and visit with hundreds of families—when I meet a nicely dressed family—one who’s children are polite and well spoken, i’ll say “you’re Mormon aren’t you?”—so far, after twenty years, i’ve never been wrong—I assure them I could join them—but I know I would never tithe

    • Gregory B. Hadley

      Stan, why would you never tithe?

  • checkpointcheryl

    Yale formerly had the reputation of being a place of rigorous intellectual inquiry. Sorry to see that it apparently has turned into a place of soppy everyone-is-right, what’s-truth-anyway, give-me-a-hug, feel-goodism. Hidden tablets, magic glasses, secret underwear, men getting to rule their own planets after they die, women who can only be saved if their husband calls them to the afterlife by their secret name, spin-off cults dedicated to old men owning young girls…The Mormons are welcome to believe whatever they want to – and the simple dynamic of being born into a Mormon family and raised in a friendly Mormon social environment and being part of that social and economic fabric can no doubt keep even very intelligent, critically minded people there when intellectually, and barring those entanglements, they would never swallow the fiction, the fantasy and the weirdness. That’s their business and it’s fine. Can their dogma hold up to scientific or even logical examination? Come on.

  • dcheretic

    I’m a gay man and lifelong atheist who has never understood the deep prejudice against Mormons. I attended high school in a conservative community with large populations of Mormons and Protestant evangelicals. The Mormon students were some of the kindest and most intellectually energetic students at my high school. In a town and school rife with anti-gay prejudice (this was the late 1980s/early 1990s), they were also rare voices of tolerance.

    I don’t appreciate anyone coming to my door to proselytize. The Mormon missionaries who have stopped by, however, were polite and much more likely to accept “no thank you” and quickly move on, unlike some other religious door knockers.

    As with any religious faith, you will likely find very few people who agree with each and every religious tenant taught. Same with Mormons. Individual Mormons vary in their politics and stances on key social issues. It was a young Mormon woman who chose my husband and me—a secular gay married couple—to adopt her baby. The Church as an institution would certainly have opposed her decision, but I suspect that there would be many Mormons who would individually understand and support her choice.

    I’m proud that Yale, contrary to what is portrayed in the media, does not stifle diverse voices and takes reasonable steps to accommodate the special needs of people of faith.

  • CentralJerseyMom

    I have the utmost respect for Mormons. As a previous commenter pointed out, they are, almost without exception, hard working, productive, kind people. The religion, however, is a scam on a level with Scientology. Not because it is not “true” — something it may share with other religions — but because it was invented by a scam artist who had tried out (and been arrested for) other scams before he hit on this one. Joseph Smith was supposedly magically “translating” ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics (which, when he actually produced a sample, were proclaimed to be nonsense by Egyptologists) into English, yet he translates not into the English that is actually spoken, but into the English of King James. Why? Because most people in those days read a version of the Bible translated during the time of King James, so they expected religious writings to be full of “thous” and “didst.” Further, as his cult developed, he began sleeping with the young daughters of his followers. When found out, he announced that he had a “revelation” that he and other male followers were supposed to have multiple “wives” — indeed, that such was required for salvation. It goes on and on, but it doesn’t get any prettier — see “The Mountain Meadows Massacre.” These are not bad things that followers of the religion have done. (The followers of all religions have done bad things.) These are bad things that are intrinsic to the founding of the religion, however much (and its not always that much) they try to back away from them now. PS DNA proves that the Native Americans have zero connection to any of the people of the Middle East. Mormons simply won’t even discuss that.

    • Sergio Roa Prado

      Here Iam to discuss all that isues. English is not my maternal language so my responses will take time.