Why I'm a Mormon* - despite everything

In August 2018 I had the great privilege of teaching at FSY (For the Strength of Youth), the LDS Church's youth convention. I taught two classes, one of which included my conversion story. In this same lesson I asked a question (I can't remember what) and one girl responded immediately and boldly, "Well, I know the Church* is perfect".

There was an instant frisson and hum as the other students responded to the controversial statement. Like the experienced teacher I'm not, I resisted the urge to take up this subject, and cut off the chatter by clarifying, "The gospel is perfect. The Church and the gospel are not the same thing."

I often think of that girl, and wonder how she felt about my clarification. The words Church and gospel can often seem to be used interchangeably in Mormon circles, and if she truly does believe that the Church is perfect, then that poor girl has a rough road ahead, because it demonstrably isn't. Every time it is late paying my expenses, it isn't perfect. Every time someone's name is spelt wrong on a sacrament meeting programme, the church isn't perfect.

The gospel, on the other hand, is (literally -  it's what the word gospel means) the good news that we can be forgiven of our sins, because Jesus loves us so much that he atoned for us, dying on the cross to take our punishment. Now that good news of love, of salvation, of hope, is perfect.

I raised my children in the Church but not very well. We didn't have family prayer or scripture study, or family home evening, apart from sporadic and ill-fated attempts. They went to youth activities, including FSY, but not seminary. We were not one of those families which start each day early with scriptures, hymns and spiritual thoughts, for which they probably thank me. Despite my ineptitude my eldest, Gwen, had a scripture on her bedroom wall from the Book of Mormon, which she chose herself: "O Lord, I have trusted in thee, and I will trust in thee forever." (2 Nephi 4:34) (I discovered recently that the sentence immediately after that one is "I will not put my trust in the arm of flesh." In other  words, trust God, not people. I stand entirely by that wisdom.)

Recently Gwen posted this video on Facebook, a ten-minute well-presented look  at ten things about the Church which put it in a very bad light. At the end it concludes that "this entire religion [is] just a fabrication".

There's some apparently pretty damning evidence in the video, but nothing I didn't know before I chose to be baptised into the Church. I spent five years researching the Church in the late 80s and early 90s, although I wasn't  a fully active member of the church until around 2002. All this information - the Kinderhook plates, Mark Hoffman, Joseph Smith's wives including the 14-year-old, the various versions of the first vision - was around then, albeit in books that I hunted out, not on the internet. I knew about it, and I still chose to become a member of this Church. Why?

In a nutshell, because it's where I found God, and it's where I found He wanted me to be. I became a Christian in my teens, in that I accepted Jesus's sacrifice for me and pledged to follow Him for life. However, I never really felt close to God, or had any kind of spiritual experience which confirmed my faith. It wasn't for want of trying: I went to lots of Christian events, services, Spring Harvest (briefly) and committed myself time and time again at countless altar calls, but never "felt the spirit" the way others described. I never felt anything except maybe embarrassment, annoyance and frustration that God wasn't speaking to me. Still, I hung on to my "head conversion", read the Bible even though no life-shattering truths ever leapt out  at me, said my prayers to empty air, and went through the motions at church.

It was only when I encountered the "Mormon" Church that I started to feel something very powerful. I fought against it--hard--but ultimately there was no denying that this was where God wanted me, and where He would meet with me. Since being baptised as a Latter-day Saint I see daily miracles, get inspiration, hear the voice of God, and find immense peace, joy, and comfort. I read the Bible (and other scriptures) and thrill at the revelation and truth that fill me, I pray and know God is listening, and hear His answers. And I go to Church and feel the spirit so much, and gain so much knowledge, that my #WhatIlearnedatChurchToday posts are generally heavily edited.

I still go to other churches regularly. I love singing worship songs, hearing different preachers with different styles and views, seeing how wide the gamut of Christian experience is, and meeting spirit-filled, kind and loving people. It's become my habit to attend another Christian church on General Conference Sundays, since I don't have responsibilities at church those weeks. I sometimes feel the spirit at these meetings, but generally I leave with a renewed certainty that I am where God wants me. It's not always comfortable to be a "Mormon" and I occasionally get challenges and criticism from members the other churches I attend, but I like to think I'm brave enough to be part of the church God has placed me in despite that. I sometimes ask people, "If God asked you to join the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, would you?"

Anyway, I'll briefly look at some of the issues covered in the video. This has been done in detail by far cleverer people than me, so it's not the main purpose of this post. But here we are, in no particular order:

  1. It was legal to marry 14-year-old girls at the time. Still is, in some places, including in some states in America. Yes, polygamously too. (I love the comment a Muslim made to a western man, "We're allowed to have up to four wives, all at the same time. You westerners prefer to have them one after another.")
  2. The fact that there are multiple accounts of the first vision is evidence in its favour. When people are lying they rehearse what they will say to "get the story straight". Police know that if someone (or several someones) say the exact same thing every time they're questioned, they are probably lying. On the other hand, if people change their story as they remember new details, or forget sections, or process meaning, they're probably telling the truth. There are multiple versions of my conversion story around because I emphasise bits, or change the language, depending on who I'm telling it to or writing for. I also remember and forget details. Doesn't mean it's not true.
  3. Whether it's gold plates, ancient papyri, or stone tablets, what is on the document, and how it is brought forth, are of less importance than the finished revelation. The tablets/papyri/documents are simply the vehicle provided to lead to the finished article, maybe to add authority or credibility to the revelations. Joseph Smith could have simply declared "thus saith the Lord" and written it all without claiming to have translated it from an ancient source, but using ancient sources made the people of the time more likely to pay attention. Whether it was actually what was on that papyrus/plates is immaterial - the finished result is what God wanted to tell us.
  4. Of course Joseph tried to defend himself - a mob were trying to kill him. That doesn't alter the fact that he gave his life for what he believed God had called him to do. If I'd been spinning a line to make money (and he didn't make any money - the Church was in debt for decades) I'd have run for the hills at the first tarring and feathering. 
I can't remember what any of the others were, but that's not what this post is for anyway, as there are plenty of apologetics sites around if you care to look for them, and I'm not an apologist despite my history. This post is about why I choose to remain in the Church even knowing all this stuff (and more). I think my testimony, above, explains a lot of that, but I spoke about a "head conversion" too, so I want to clarify why my head, and well as my heart and soul, makes the Church a non-negotiable in my life. If I were choosing a religion only on merits, with no reference to whether I felt the spirit there, or believed God was working through it, why would I choose this one?
  1. My life experiences have led to me to believe that alcohol is evil, drinking alcohol is wrong, and Christians shouldn't do it. I need a church which agrees with me.
  2. I need a church which doesn't accept the traditional doctrine of the trinity. I've read the Bible, cover to cover, several times. The trinity doctrine isn't in it. I had always struggled to believe it, and it was a relief to let that go.
  3. I need a church with a belief in prophecy, and a prophet. The world is  a crazy mixed up place, and we need authoritative ongoing revelation. He doesn't have to be a perfect man who always speaks for God and never goes off piste, but he does have to have that entitlement to revelation for the world.
  4. I need a church which practices baptism for the dead. If that isn't practiced, then God is unfair, and the God I know isn't unfair.

Find me another church which ticks all those boxes, and I'll join it.

It's not always comfortable being a Mormon precisely because we do get all this criticism, but I'm not sure it's comfortable being any religion these days. It seems that personal belief is the last thing it is okay to bash in society. We no longer (thank goodness) insult people because of their race, or their sexuality, or (hopefully) their gender, but it seems it's perfectly okay to scorn then for deeply-held philosophies, even when you have no real knowledge of that belief system, and haven't had the experiences that person has. On my daughter's post someone I respect and admire has said, "Can you imagine what the human race would of [sic] achieved by now if we hadn't invented religion!" and I've seen many comments by other people saying that anyone religious is stupid, or deluded, or bad. Now, I'm a big sceptic. I don't believe in horoscopes, or homeopathy, for example, but I fully respect the rights of others to hold and treasure their beliefs, and not be belittled and insulted for holding them. Maybe those people have had experiences with those things that I haven't which has led them to believe in them, just as I have had encounters with God which have led me to a point where I cannot deny the truth, however much society points the finger of scorn.

Having said that, I admit I'm a "cafeteria Mormon" and I like to pick and choose the bits I accept. For example, I don't like the doctrine of the Heavenly Mother. It's not anywhere in the scriptures, and seems to have been dreamt up by Eliza Snow. As a feminist I should maybe be defending it, but in my cafeteria analogy it's really just garnish - or maybe a side vegetable (peas). The meat (or Quorn - I'm vegetarian) of the gospel, and of the church, is that God loves us, and Jesus lived to show us how to love, and died to save us from ourselves, and I fully testify to the truth of that. The Church isn't perfect, nor does it need to be, because the gospel is.

* When I refer to "Church" or "Mormon" I mean The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Recently the Prophet has asked that we move away from the terms "Mormon" and "Latter-day Saint" to describe ourselves, because the name of the Saviour is precious to us, and calling us by these nicknames diminishes that, and doesn't make it clear that we follow Jesus Christ. I welcome that policy, and have thought about how I want to identify my religious affiliation as a result. I concluded that when asked, I will say that I am a Christian, because I am. I am a follower of Jesus Christ, who has trusted in Him for my salvation. I may, in some contexts, want to include detail and say something like, "I am a Christian who attends the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints". This is fine by me as I always felt more of a Christian than a Mormon. In fact, I considered calling this blog post "Why I'm a Christian who attends the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints despite everything" but, you know, length restrictions.

Also, when you see church with a small c, I am referring to the fellowship of all Christians, the community of people who follow Jesus Christ.


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