The only angels that I believe in are my children.
Last year, Molly and I welcomed the third into our little cove of love: a son whom we named Joseph Paul Rawlins, named for his father and also a middle name for my best friend, cinematographer and filmmaker Paul Hudson.
But Joseph Rawlins is a name with much more history than this.
On the day that I was excommunicated from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, my mother told me that I was named after Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism. Of course, I was stunned because this flew in the face of an entire childhood where I believed that I was named after her father, Joseph Levay Maestas. I knew that my middle name, Lindsay, was a girl’s name and grew up with a terrible case of “a boy named Sue”. But Lindsay is actually a very common boy’s name in the Rawlins family, most of my male cousins having the middle name in honor of our paternal grandfather, Lindsay Marcus Rawlins.
Not long after my excommunication, my father asked me if I intended to antagonize the Church, publicly. I told him that I did plan to be public about my leaving the Church and that some would take that as antagonism – I cannot change that. When he asked why I felt that I needed to do this, I said that it was a matter of conscience for me – that sharing helped other people who were struggling on their own journey out of Mormonism. An honest question deserves an honest answer.
He asked me to consider the impact that this decision would have on my family.
I harbor no resentment for my Dad in making this approach. My family is hardly in the public eye but LDS businesspeople in the family have reputations that could be marred by having a family member who is a public Ex-Mormon. I would be irresponsible not to consider how my choices effected the others.
For the first time in my life, I considered that maybe I didn’t deserve to be a Rawlins, anymore.
It was clear that if I intended to contradict the Church publicly, I would need to use a pseudonym to protect the family name. I could not bear the thought that my story – the story of a missionary named Elder Joseph Lindsay Rawlins – should be told by a man who refused to use his real name. It seemed disingenuous to me and while some have chosen that route, I could not live with it. If my name was not Joseph Rawlins in print, then it wasn’t mine, anymore. Perhaps I should reject Joseph Rawlins if Joseph Rawlins is a Mormon boy’s name and I was no longer a Mormon.
I began fielding to my wife different names that I could go by – not as a pseudonym but legally changing my name. I hated all of them and so did she. She assured me that she had taken the Rawlins name and passed it on to my children and for their sake, I should let the rest of the family suck it up if they didn’t like it.
But I was hurt. The rejection and pain of the thought that my family ought to exile me rather than have any claim on me drove me into the hardest suicidal episode of my life, so far. It is a pain that I can tell you that others feel all too well: Bangerters and Youngs, Smith’s and Hinckley’s and even Monsons.
Notice that I don’t say that my Dad or the Church drove me into this period of self-loathing. I felt rejected but when I rejected the faith of my ancestors, that was a choice that was on me. I will go to my grave with that shame. I cannot change that, now and I don’t know why I would want to, anymore.
Mormonism doesn’t get to keep my story for me. This story is my story.
A Mormon boy who became a missionary, a missionary who became an atheist. A boy who became a man by walking out of the obscurity of faith and into the light of reason. This is my story and I have a right to tell it with the name that I was given and anyone who objects will just have to deal with it.
In The Korihor Argument, I talk a little bit about the day that I was excommunicated when I was approached by my mother about how much my ancestors had sacrificed so that I could “know the Gospel”. I responded that those people had abandoned their own parents’ faiths in the Protestant traditions in order to embrace what they believed was right.
In fact, it was another Joseph Rawlins – Joseph Sharp Rawlins – who made the pioneer trek to Utah under Brigham Young. That same Joseph Sharp Rawlins was the son of the first Rawlins to convert to Mormonism: James Rawlins and was given his mother’s maiden name, “Sharp”, as a middle name, a tradition that continued in my family down to modern times with “Lindsay” and “Whitney”, two other prominent surnames in our genealogy.
Joseph Sharp Rawlins was a Mormon of higher principle than the leadership of his era. No one in my family would say so but I am going to. He was a believer in Joseph Smith and in God, certainly, but also a man who opposed to polygamy at a time when doing so was dangerous in Mormon Utah, whose Prophets said that the institution of monogamy was not a godly one (which the modern Mormon Church insists that it is) but was a pagan practice instituted by the Romans at the time that Christ’s original “true Church” was snuffed out by the Caesars with the martyrdom of the Apostles.
Joseph Sharp Rawlins was not public about his opposition to polygamy, as many Mormons were not, but he confided that concern in at least one of his sons named Joseph Lafayette Rawlins, my great-great-great-uncle. This younger Joseph Rawlins was appalled when Church leaders told his father to take a second wife in contradiction of his personal convictions. Idealist that Joseph Sharp Rawlins was, he was also an obedient Mormon and believed that his spiritual leaders were men inspired of God. So he entered into the practice of polygamy.
Joseph Lafayette Rawlins became a quiet ex-Mormon but a vocal opponent to the institution of polygamy. He passed the bar in Utah and practiced Law and was elected a Congressman from the then-territory of Utah and went to Washington, where he was the author of the Enabling Act that empowered Utah to become a State once it denounced the institution of polygamy. This is the most important victory in the history of Utah and her neighboring States who also were able to annex after the Enabling Act was passed.
He was a Democrat and in fact one of the first leaders of the Democratic Party in Utah.
He was maligned by the prophet of the Mormon Church at the time, Joseph F. Smith (Joseph Fielding Smith, Sr. the nephew of the Church’s founder) who gave all credit for Utah’s statehood to his Washington lobbyist and told Mormons not to vote for Rawlins, anymore, but to vote for a Mormon who was the son of one of the Church’s prominent polygamists and ecclesiastical leaders, George Q. Cannon, whom was sentenced to prison for refusing to give up the practice of polygamy.
I consider myself named after Joseph Lafayette Rawlins.
Rawlins lost re-election with the opposition of a Church-endorsed candidate and this hardened his resolve against the Church’s leadership. He ran in the first race for Utah’s Senator and won and spent 6 more years in Washington before again losing re-election and retiring to private life to teach and practice law and become a quiet closet Ex-Mormon.
The University of Utah, whose campus was built on land that Rawlins acquired from the Federal Government so that there could be another University in Utah that wasn’t run by the Church, has long honored Rawlins as “Father of Utah Statehood.”
When I think of the struggle of Joseph Lafayette Rawlins, I am more proud of my name than I ever was. Because this is not the struggle that we are born to as Ex-Mormons, but the struggle that we take up.
We cannot change that we were born into Mormon families. We cannot change that our story is a Mormon story.
But we can choose any future for our Mormon stories. And I choose to be the first Joseph Rawlins – and perhaps the last – to publicly say that I love Mormons but I hate Mormonism.
I hate that Joseph Smith, Jr. is spoken of with high regard in any corner of the world. He was a philanderer and a pedophile and on this I will not back down. He was a con artist and a swindler and a liar who tried to subvert the freedom of his followers and their neighbors and took up arms against his countrymen because he drank his own Kool-Aid.
He didn’t deserve to die at the hand of a vigilante. He deserved his day in court and an opportunity for justice. But to be frank: if the World was a better place without the Unabomber or Jeffrey Dahmer or Ted Bundy in it, then it is better without Joseph Smith, Jr. in it. I have said it and let it live long after I am dead.
The abusive “revelations” and policy decisions of leaders of the Mormon Church extend far beyond the recent controversy over the children of gay families being forbidden to become Mormons until they are old enough to legally renounce their parents as apostates.
My name is Joseph Lindsay Rawlins and I am a Mormon apostate. Deal with it.
For live events and broadcasts with Joe Rawlins, go to: joerawlins.com/events.