Bill Reel - Introduction


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Hey my name is Bill Reel. I live in Sandusky Ohio near Cedar Point (America's largest roller coaster park).

I am 35 years old and joined the church as a convert at 17 years old. I am the only member of my family but my wife's side are members. I had a major faith crisis and after having worked through it, I started a podcast called MormonDiscussion found at as an effort to help people in the midst of a faith crisis know they are not alone. I have served as a Bishop and I want to help others so please don't hesitate to ask me anything. I have been interviewed By FAIR and also another podcast along with my own. I also moderated a panel discussion at FAIR's conferemce this year the Loss and Rekindling of Faith

Any way that's the Short version. And here is the long story of my faith struggle.

I encountered the restored gospel at the age of 17. I was in my senior year of High School and began dating a LDS girl. Before long, I was taking the missionary discussions and reading up on everything Mormon. In my desire to take in all information about the Church I discovered a book at my local library, Fawn Brodie's “No Man Knows My History”. This book was critical of the Church and painted Joseph Smith as a fraud. I read it and it was counter to everything the missionaries had taught me and testified of. This occurred while still taking the discussions and preparing for baptism; and caused me to delve deeper into Mormonism by exploring for the first time LDS apologetics.

While studying the faithful answers to the issues this book and others critical sources raised I became aware that Mormonism was a very deep subject with an infinite number of branches of information one could study and research. I found sites like FAIR, Book of Mormon Answerman, SHIELDS, and JEFF LINDSAY'S apologetic web pages. These sites along with a divine answer to prayer gave me the answers that allowed me to settle these tough issues in my mind and to proceed with baptism. Once baptized my seeking didn't subsist. I continued looking for more history, doctrine, and discussion on anything Mormon.

There was a major flaw in my persistence to learn about the Church. The flaw was that very few other Latter-Day Saints in my Ward and likely Stake had approached their faith this way. This led to me being one of the most informed members even at a young age and just recently converted. Missionaries came to me when tough questions arose. When I shared a fact in Sunday School or Priesthood, the look on members faces said “I didn't know that”. My ability to speak without a written talk and to pull scriptures out my head was frankly superior to most around me. This built a false assumption in my world view that in being the most informed in my home area, meant that my answers and framework and views were the most enlightened. That in essence I had a better foundation and the most correct view.

The other issue which is a major contributor was the inability to separate Doctrine, Policy, Opinion, and Culture. Coming into the Ward as a 17 year old convert causes one to naturally rely on others for the wisdom of how to arrive at the real Mormonism. Leaning on older members to show me the sources of wisdom and truth from where I should seek truth. Members pointed me to books like Bruce R McConkie's “Mormon Doctrine”, Joseph Fielding Smith's “Doctrines of Salvation” and “Man, His Origin and Destiny” along with many others. I had come to see these men as not only Prophets, Seers, and Revelators; but also as infallible. If one was a general authority, then I assumed when they spoke to the Church it was safe to assume they were speaking the mind and will of God. That their books and talks were prophetic extensions of their mantle. That they could be trusted as such left me inserting every principle they taught into my framework as truth.

Looking back it is easy to pick out, that while I had arrived at answers and solutions, I had done so in a very dogmatic way. The trouble was that I, and most others I assume, don't have the ability to see that little but important piece of information in the midst of living it. I assumed my answers were complete and informed and workable. I believed that if anyone posed a critical problem to me I could spout back the perfect answer. Missionaries took any chance they could to seek me out for answers and for me to expound on deeper subjects. When they encountered a opposing minister or a investigator with deep questions, I was asked to go along on the appointment.

In the midst of this misplaced trust in my own intellectual framework, I also moved up quickly in leadership in the Church. My first calling weeks after baptism was as the Assistant Ward Mission Leader. Not long after I was ordained an Elder and called as a counselor in the EQ presidency. Over the next 5 years I served in 4 more EQ presidencies, a Young Men's presidency, and then was called as EQ president. After a 2 year stint as EQ president I was called as a counselor in a Bishopric at the age of 26. Then at 29 I was called to be the Bishop of my home Ward.

All of these callings came quickly, one after the other and in many ways contributed to a feeling of security, that I had things figured out and God was aware of it. To some extent I want to call it pride, though it wasn't the haughty pride that many think of when that word was used. I genuinely loved the Gospel, I genuinely enjoyed magnifying callings and helping others. I genuinely enjoyed giving talks and serving those around me. But in my recognizing that I was more informed and that God trusted me with serious responsibility at a young age, I became to secure that my framework and foundation was authentic and realistic and in that sense I had become prideful.

Then the crash came. Little by little over the years I had small faith crises. I would discover some fact, and then I would struggle for a week or two until I discovered the answer. I was prone to doubt you could say. Don't get me wrong, I have had spiritual experiences that would to most likely hold them firm in the faith but to some extent I must have a little bit of Laman and Lemuel in me. I was always clinging to the next faith promoting fact or the next answer to a critical question. I could never settle down and be still but rather was always searching for the empirical truth one way or the other.

While my crash occurred while serving as a Bishop, it was not due to being a Bishop. The calling was awesome and in many ways blessed me in my crisis and gave me access to experiences that helped me to hold on. My crash occurred over my realization that my framework and foundation were faulty. I don't remember it coming on slowly though I assume in many ways it did. Looking back it feels as though it was a sudden overnight thing. It seems I just woke up one morning and thought to myself, The Church is likely not true, and it certainly is not what it claims. At this point all the light in my eyes left me. I begin to deeply struggle and to feel the weight of this matter in a profound way. It now became absolutely necessary to get to the bottom of it. There is a word that is used often called Cognitive dissonance – which means “the discomfort experienced when simultaneously holding two or more conflicting cognitions”. In other words I had in my mind the belief that the Church was True and that it was also False, and this issue was so important to my mind that there was a serious conflict going on physically to resolve it. I couldn't sleep. I couldn't set it aside and think about anything else. I spent every waking moment thinking through the issues and arguments on both sides and trying to find that empirical piece of evidence that would let me me once and for all make a determination of lasting final conclusion.

I began getting angry and frustrated and having a bit of sarcasm as I worked through these issues. I must stop here and make mention that this anger did not affect me in the Church setting. In fact Sundays were the one day when all felt right and all was well, except Sundays would end and Mondays brought a renewed focus on the truth claims of the Church. During my weeks I became more and more concerned that I had been deceived, that the Church was indeed NOT true. It never occurred to me that rather then the Church not being true because it didn't meet my expectations or my assumptions, that it was my assumptions and expectations that needed adjusted. Take Evolution for example. I had been taught by the words of Prophets and Apostles that Evolution was not only wrong but a heresy. I exclaimed this truth at every chance I could take. Then one day while studying information about the earth and creation, it hits me that there may be more to Evolution then I had first given it credit. Now imagine that this happens with a 100 other subjects around the same time – Age of the earth?, divinity of the Book of Abraham?, Where's the real Hill Cumorah? The motive behind polygamy and polyandry?, and many many more. Now imagine when you trust a leader to always be speaking for God and to always be on his errand. This leaves no room for error. When I saw leaders and their teachings in this very defined and delineated way it only allowed for a very black and white way of seeing things. While this “Black and White” world may be an easy way for most of us to live by, it does not account and allow for the complexity and diversity in our experiences and world.

While in this deep faith crisis, I didn't dare tell anyone. I worried that that since I knew more then they did about our history, they would at minimum not be able to answer my questions and at worst I would destroy their faith. I also realized the stigma that doubt has had at times in our Church, and a Bishop with doubt would, I perceived, be seen in even a lesser light. So I kept it in and spoke to no-one for the longest time. But little by little, I realized I was sinking further to the conclusion the Church was not what it claimed.

While in the stage of anger, bitterness, and sarcasm I decided that if the Church is true there has to be other ways to see things and that others have to have answers. I begin searching on the internet for people who delved as deep or deeper into these subjects. I located some podcasts (online audio programs) and some internet discussion boards that allowed for me to both listen to people who thought of things differently and to ask different online communities tough questions and see how they answer them. Both of these were helpful in that they showed me that there were other people who were just as aware of the problems and yet they were able to make things work, and better yet explain to me how they did so.

As I waded my way through these views and answers, it became apparent that those who knew this stuff and still had faith, had rebuilt their foundation and framework on a different set of assumptions and expectations then I had. It was apparent that If I was to regain faith, I would have to attempt to tear it all down and rebuild it. Not only rebuild it though, but do so in a way that was honest and reasonable. I begin to look at older sources for quotes from leaders giving flexibility to what is Doctrine and what isn't. I began to look at issues and see if they really were framed the way I thought they were. It caused me to look inwardly and be self-honest about why things did or didn't fit and if there were other possible ways to view these issues in. I also realized that members of the Church didn't fit a mold and that while many members of my ward did seem to see things in a common way that in reality there was not just one form of Mormonism That outside of a very small set of commonly held beliefs, that there was plenty of room for flexibility and diversity. That while in my ward I felt alone and outside of the accepted tent of Mormonism, that worldwide I fit very comfortably in the actual tent. Once I began to recognize that this new framework was in reality a better and more realistic approach, I saw room for faith again. Suddenly the anger subsided, and the bitterness was swept away. Just as getting into the Crisis was a long process so was coming out of it. A one step back, two step forward kind of model. But finally I could see the light at the end of the tunnel.

This new approach, while giving me back my faith, admittedly placed me more outside the norm for our ward. And while this comes with some added tension at times, I must say, I relish it. By that I mean it does not cause me overwhelming anger or sadness, but rather I realize I have paid a price for this view and I cherish it. I simply acknowledge that we are all different and that it is wrong of me to impose this new framework on others and that we are better to act as guides in safely leading someone through this transition and not force the transition itself.. I also attempt to let others know by the way I speak and the words I use that I am a safe person to approach with tough questions.

I also should say here that while I have told the story from an intellectual point of view, you should not assume there was not a spiritual aspect to this journey. There were prayers, both answered and unanswered. There were miracles both those requested and those that came unexpectedly. There were spiritual experiences some of such a divine nature as to be beyond an emotional response of the brain. God never left my side through this entire journey and while things didn't happen as I had pleaded for them to, they happened none the less.

In response to my crisis and noticing that many sites and groups have answers and many validate the struggle that a faith crisis is, very few do both; I created a podcast MormonDiscussion. This podcast discusses both the intricate parts of a faith crisis helping those in the midst of one deal with the emotional ride that they are but also “Leading with Faith” as Elder Holland has asked us to do. The podcast can be found at Mormon Discussion : Faith & Doubt

My name is Bill Reel. I used to be a knower, but now I am believer. While I hope to get back to a place of having a perfect knowledge, I am now comfortable having a faith that is “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of which not seen” Heb 11:1. I am grateful for God's Grace and the atonement of my Savior and want all to know specifically that this place I am at is way more beautiful then where I was even before the Crisis.

Edited by DBMormon
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Hi Bill,

Small world. Just the other day I was listening to the interview you did on "another podcast," as you called it. I thought it was wonderful and really enjoyed it. Thank you.

For me, the turning point in my own crisis was when I started to focus on following the LDS church instead of trying to evaluate its philosophical or historical propositions as scientifically true or false. There are many parts of the LDS church that I behold as sincere works of art from the mind of Joseph Smith as he struggled to describe his experience of God. And I regard Joseph Smith as more of an artist of God than a messenger from God. I don't know whether the Book of Mormon is a historical record or one giant parable like the Good Samaritan or the Prodigal Son. Perhaps in the next life I will find out. But that uncertainty now in no way prevents me from following the Church today and believing that it pulls all people Godward. Jesus' words about results ("ye shall know them by their fruits") were an absolutely key insight. I see LDS members living and breathing the words of Jesus every day of their lives, and I must say the happiest days in my life were when I was an active LDS member. (I am trying to figure out how to return to the Church now, but my reasons for drifting away were always cultural and not based on doctrine.)

It breaks my heart when I see or hear of LDS members who get hung up on historical problems of the Book of Mormon or on failures of LDS leaders over the years. (But I do think Brigham Young should have been muzzled.) The measure of a church is how much it changes you for the better and aligns you with God, even if the tools to align you (like temples) originated from human artisans. When I say the LDS Church is true, I don't mean true in the same sense that 1+1=2 is true. I mean it's true like true north or a true plumb in carpentry. And demanding proof that the Book of Mormon is true is sort of like demanding proof that Beethoven's symphonies are beautiful. To use a two horrible expressions that I hear all the time, once I gave myself permission to think outside the box, I was able to engage the LDS Church in a deep and grateful way that I had never imagined before.

Wishing you well as a fellow traveler on this nighttime road.

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Thanks for the introduction, Bill. I know the journey you describe.

I've followed your journey somewhat over the past year or two, on 'other boards'. I'm glad you have not only come to a happy place, but are able to provide assistance to others as well. I have tried to help others through participation on a few various web sites, and continue off and on as time and desire allow.

This site is my "peaceful refuge" which I am very grateful for. Welcome.


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