Former CES Director Philip McLemore pulls back the curtain to give us a look behind the scenes at what really goes on in the Church Educational System. As a bonus, we also get to hear about the strange happenings on his mission to Brazil in the early 70s. Finally, Philip shares the untold story of how he was asked by top CES leadership to write up a thorough debunking of anti-Mormon criticisms back in the heyday of The Godmakers. And why it was that project never saw the light of day. This is one you don’t want to miss!!!
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18 Replies to “Radio Free Mormon: 203: Confessions of a CES Director”
I loved this episode!! I can really relate because like Philip and RFM I’m a convert and the same demographic age. Like Philip and RFM I joined as a teenager and found being a member gave me structure and purpose I badly needed. Like RFM, after about 10 years I started to feel boxed. I remember being excited to go to the Temple to learn the “mysteries “ When I got to the veil and found out what the “further light and knowledge“ was, I felt a profound sense of disappointment. I felt like Ralphie in the Christmas Story when he decrypted that message from his favorite radio show and it said “Remember to drink your Ovaltine!
Anyway I lived in the Bible Belt when the Godmakers made the rounds. I always wondered why the Church never did a rebuttal to it but now I know! I finally watched it when Mormon Stories interviewed Ed Decker and it seemed pretty accurate, although a bit sensationalized.
Wow! What an eye opener. I had mission companions who felt quite sad because they had friends in South America who “lived in the baptismal font” while we, in our mission, did not. Thank you for the encouragement to “press forward with a steadfastness in Christ and a perfect brightness of hope.” Thank you Phillip and RFM
Why would we assume Elder Ashton was open to finding problems? It was much easier for the church to walk around, kick some dirt and not dig hard enough to find problems. All consciences come away clear and the baptism machine (PR machine too) continues. As soon as it was said that Ashton gave a 6-8 week notice I knew how the movie would end and how it was planned from HQ to the mission.
Now I know why those who knew the B.S. didn’t leave….you were in the eternal truths club. Answers a lot for me. What about the twist all doctrine club? For example…I could not believe polygamy so what do I do? Smith was a fallen prophet. God took him out but it took decades to fix his polygamy mess. Woodruff says polygamy will never end then turns on a dime after God straightened him out. I didn’t know about the need for a second manifesto. I did that with everything. Patriarchal order, priesthood, giving birth for eternity, all but one thing…you speak of a boxes, a woman’s box is so much more limited than men. I hated my box. Cried about my box. So I found running. I have run so many miles and when I took my legs to the mountains I found heaven. The only time of the day I felt like the real me was when I was on my mountain. Mormonism is external and empty. I like the part where it was said that Jesus talks of being born again. You live and love freely. My extensive study of the bible leaves me a Jesus only woman and it doesn’t even matter who or what Jesus was. His message is beautiful. The rest is not worth the scrolls and scrolls and scribes and translators and years and years and years to compile it…. For all Mount Timpanogos lovers…she is burned and scarred. All my everyday trails are ash. Heart breaking. It will take a decade for her to heal.
Great interview RFM. Phil was a really interesting guest, lots to appreciate and learn from his story.
(Also, if you get bored of the law thing, you might consider a career as a radio/tv host.)
I have to say one more thing. Phil at around 2:45 about how you have to be a decent human and not dishonest and etc. to have an inner rebirth. Maybe that’s how it worked for him but you should meet my husband. Alcoholic and drug abuser. Liar, thief and miscreant. God or what he calls a higher power spoke to him in his lowest moment and my husband listened and followed this spirit. He is the greatest person I have ever met. 25 years so lost and god found him. If you believe in Jesus, He sought out what we would call the scum of the earth.
So, Phil is wrong about who can be born again. It doesn’t even matter if Jesus is the son of god. He had a great message but……there is something that permeates thoughts and hearts and can lead us to be the best of who we can be. This former scumbag I live with has lifted my life to heights I could not attain alone.
I really did not have time to lay out my view of Spiritual Rebirth, so I would expect some misunderstandings. There are a number of people who have an immoral and irresponsible lifestyle, hit “rock bottom”, become disgusted with themselves, and change in a positive way. I am always happy to see this. In fact, this was similar to my experience when I joined the church, which is why I felt “born again” and that Mormonism was true. The “Rebirth” Jesus revealed was not about becoming a better person but was about a shift in identity from a limited, false sense of self to knowledge and experience of one’s Divine Nature. This false “self” can be “good” (The Elder Son=perfect outward compliance but self-righteous and thus lacking compassion), “bad” (the Prodigal, rebellious and sinful), or “good Good” (genuinely trying hard to be the best one can be but ignorant of spiritual reality and not in conscious Oneness with God). It is often easier to become a better person from “rock bottom” than from self-righteousness. Having said that, most people lost in patterns of immoral, irresponsible, immature living, do not change, since the unhealthy patterns keep them stuck. All genuine spiritual traditions begin with a code of “moral” and ethical teaching and practice to help break up negative patterns so one can be more open to the Divine within. At first, Jesus told the Rich Young Man to keep the commandments. When he affirmed that he did, Jesus then tried to take him to the next step of following him into Oneness with God–the Rebirth. He was not ready. Mormonism is stuck in the first stage of spiritual practice which has to do with “moral” living, which is foundational but which does not lead to Rebirth. It is the “inner” work (meditation, contemplative prayer, etc) of dissolving the false sense of self (“good” or “bad”) and awakening to one’s true nature IN God that constitutes Rebirth. You are correct, “there is something that permeates (I would say underlies) thoughts and hearts that can lead us to be the best of who we can be”. The “Inner Path” is about becoming more aware of That and communing in Divine Presence so That can be nourished and strengthened until It constitutes the core of our identity.
When I teach meditation to Mormons I casually mention “moral” living and then press on to “Inner” work. When I teach at meditation centers and at meditation retreats with non-Mormons, I have to take time to teach “moral” living before we talk about inner work. The New Age influence has sent the message you can awaken to spiritual realities through meditation, etc, as you live as you damn well please, meaning, respond to any human urges and without regard to self-discipline. It is my experience that “immoral” behavior undermines the inner work. I hope it is obvious when I refer to “right” living I talking about being honest, kind, etc, and not the nonsense of not drinking coffee, wearing white shirts, and only wearing one earring, etc.
Thanks for your deeper explanation. The life of an addict is desparate. My husband said he could not do it on his own. The “demon” as he calls it is powerful. Believe it or not his body healed quicker than his soul. The emotional addiction is much stronger. My point was my husband did nothing to encourage the spirit into his heart other than he wanted help. His story is almost unbelievable. He was my non Mormon boyfriend at 17 and 18. I had to give him up to step into my Mormon box and do what I was told god wanted me to do. After 30 years apart the spirit led us back together and he had been clean 2 years by not letting go of the higher power. Part of the pain for me is we are pretty sure his capture by the demon would have been avoided if we had married back in 1983.
For me, Mormonism was not helpful but hurt me along the way as I learned the doctrine. It is horrible for women to the degree I never felt loved by god. Mormon polygamy has caused me more damage than any trauma I have experienced and I’ve been through a lot. I still have difficulty when I hear people, mostly men who say they bought it hook, line and sinker.
You have a very nice voice and it is soothing. Great for meditation. Thanks for your insight.
Great interview, RFM. I’m glad that you’ve added interviews to your toolset, though I very much enjoy your solo explorations as well. You also seem to be getting into the interview groove and improving your interviewing skills as you go.
The church has institutionalized the practice of ignoring both inconvenient facts and the inconvenient people who knew about them.
So many of the stories that Phil shared were familiar to me in my own 40 years in the church (I joined in 1976 just after high school and many of my experiences mirrored yours). In my time in teaching and leadership roles I’ve had many similar experiences surrounding the determination of leaders to utterly avoid addressing anything that was challenging. And I learned the hard way how quickly you can go from being loved, trusted and admired for your dedication and knowledge to being ignored and marginalized. I experienced how hard it was to start seeing the cracks in the foundation, and when I too offered to help our stake and ward leadership with members who were struggling with similar things I got a similar “thanks but no thanks” response.
Ultimately I found that the approach at the local level was always going to be 1) ignore the information and pretend there is nothing to talk about; 2) ignore the people who were struggling with truth-claim issues as well as the issues they were concerned about, and 3) when members left due to their unaddressed and unresolved concerns, abandon those members and only speak of them as “lost”.
You hit it on the head with your comment about the church’s reverse-Christianity of focusing exclusively the 99 and ignoring the 1 that was wounded and wandering. When I started my exit I was genuinely surprised that no one reached out to minister to me and no one asked what was happening or why I was no longer attending. The subsequent avoidance and shunning experienced was very painful, but I understand it now and have been able to integrate in a way that’s helped me become more whole.
I am not even 1 hour in and I was already having flashbacks from my mission back in ’97-’99 and the dismay and…anger I felt as a 19 yr old back then, came bubbling up (and I’m not even a believing member currently!). I was in my second area in the boonies of a south american jungle, and the little villa we lived in had a large number of baptisms that were basically the soccer / get them cake baptisms. The elder before us (my companion and I), did the exact same thing as mentioned in this interview. And this was in 1997! We had to find all of them bc, ya know, they weren’t attending our tiny little branch and their story was always…always the same. “Elder J (not giving the full name) would play soccer with us, promise us cake if we got baptized….so of course we would go and be baptized.”
Thank you for bringing this up again and all that this entailed. As my mission went on, I started to realize…I wanted to be better then them…but I really changed nothing, because I really believed in mormonism….I am glad I am not the only one that experienced this…thank you again.
I loved this episode! Hadn’t heard of Phil before but will be looking into more of his stuff. The last 10-15 minutes especially spoke to me and where I’m at spiritually.
I’m mystified why at the end of this process, we end up Jesus the Christ still in the mix? Is he really necessary?
Good question. I have a number of friends from the Yoga tradition I consider to be Awake/Reborn. They are not “Christians”. In fact, my yoga guru/mentor was a pure Yogi–no need for Jesus. So in that sense, the man Jesus is not necessary. However, the man Jesus embodied and revealed That which is necessary for Awakening or Rebirth–“the Christ” (see Richard Rohr’s, The Universal Christ) or the Presence and Life of God present in all of creation. Jesus, for me, is a mediator of this Life. I am best described as a Christian Yogi. Sadly Jesus has been misunderstood as the result of theological developments and false interpretations by religion. I love the statement by Alan Watts, “The religion OF Jesus became a religion ABOUT Jesus, and lost its power.”
When we find no solution to a problem, it usually is not a problem to be solved, but a truth to be accepted. Phillip, RFM, church apologists, and true believing members can spend a lifetime trying to prove the church is true, making lame excuses for the hundreds of problems with church history, scriptures, and doctrine. Only when we realize that the church is not true does everything make sense.
I was taught to listen carefully to the voices of Adam and God in the temple ceremony and that you can hear when adam becomes god. Such a great episode!
R f m and phill the parts about not being excommunicated really stand out to me I am a blue collar man in my 50s I have been a skeptical believer all of my life my lack of formal education and my BYU educated working wife have served our wards very well over these many years we have sat through countless interviews mainly tithing settlement and I’ve been told many times if your wife didn’t work outside the home you would be an excellent bishop maybe that’s the reason I’ve encouraged her to keep working a few years ago she was called as our r s president she worked four 10 hour days and poured her heart into her calling she was phenomenal I was released from the h p group leader position and was more or less put out to pasture I didn’t mind helping her as I knew how important her role was in our ward . But this gave me time for the first time in my life to research the history and in the process I learned about the second anointing and I said something about it in testimony meeting it also became very clear that Joseph Smith was wasn’t who we have been taught he was . I was quickly silenced threatened with excommunication and have been through the shake down a couple of times since that time . Our ward was split not long ago and it has hurt our youth groups the church has changed a lot in the pst few years but at its core it is very plain to see that the God who oversees this as his one and only true church wasn’t properly cast out by Peter in the old ceremony besides in all the years my wife worked outside the home they gladly accepted her tithing and expected us to pay it her work as a care provider often in the last stages of life truly has made her a ministering angel and her life calling as a mother a wife and homemaker has been free of pills and mind bending drugs many l d s women turn to in order to find fulfillment and peace in their lives . Your many references to your wife really brought this to the surface for me so thank you I am a small business owner and many of my contacts are l d s and my children are all grown and are married in the temple excommunication would be devastating to all who are around us so we plod on we are content to watch the circus it is much more fun than to be in it at the present time . It’s hard to leave when you were born into it the high wire act as a member really doesn’t have a net and a fall from believing is always fatal as seen in the eyes of the so called inspired in this organization I have had many experiences in life that lead me to believe in a higher power I think he stands or she stands at the head of all things I think honestly and clarity are at the root of this beings existence I also think that the l d s church with its billions invested in mammon will make a metamorphosis like it did in the 1930 s it will embrace Joseph Smith’s failings and will make wonderful lemonade that all can drink and enjoy out of it the p r arm of the church is already working on it. Enough said being born into this organization has a price also . Just look at the current leadership most still have a familiar name .
Brother McLemore, the whole segment describing your mission experience was jaw-dropping. Dysfunctional, disgusting, nigh unbelievable. Wow.
I had a challenging mission experience, but for the most part I think my mission was a good one — as good as a mission can be that applies pressure to get numbers, anyway. Had I had your experience I would have been scarred for life. It makes me sad that you and others had to endure that, and so many locals were subjected to that.