I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, often called Mormon and I have been for 33 years now. I’m in the Relief Society (all women members are). I’m currently teaching in Primary, our children’s organization, and my husband and I attend the temple as regularly as I can with four young children to raise. You could consider me your average mainstream member. That being established, when I read the experience of Kathy Reed,I was very impressed at her attempt to be objective and fair, and not offended at all. That level of respect is unusual for someone who has joined us and then left, and I highly commend her for that.
There were some comments that she made that I would like to add to, just so that anyone who is reading this, who might be thinking about joining, could get another perspective on who we are and what to ask. I’ve spent some time away from the Church myself, searching for answers, and coming back to my faith as an adult was a very deliberate move on my part.
Ms. Reed’s situation is actually very common among some converts. Joining our church is not a simple matter of getting baptized and being confirmed a member. It is a lifestyle and culture change, sometimes a very jarring one, depending on what traditions you are coming from. She mentioned that she had no family or friends who were members; only a man that she was dating and impressed with. Our leadership has tried to help the members become more sensitive to the needs of our new members and their feelings in recent months, but it is true that having that support system of people who understand the change you are making does make it much easier. The change is not impossible to make, but many have made great sacrifices to do so.
We don’t drink alcohol, so if you have friends or family who do, you may feel some pressure to revert to your previous behavior. We don’t smoke tobacco, and some struggle with that change. We pay ten percent of the money that we earn to the Church for tithing, and that is hard for some. We fast two meals once a month and give the money for those meals to the Church to feed the poor, and I personally struggle with that myself sometimes. If your family and friends don’t understand what you’re going through, you may feel very lonely. Someone who has family or friends in the Church wouldn’t feel that pressure to the same degree. That is a factor that must be considered before you join.
I laughed when she mentioned Donny and Marie. It seems that we’ve gotten a lot of publicity from those two. Generally we’ve fond of them. My husband laughed when she said that our children are well-behaved in church meetings. Ours have had their difficulties, but it’s hard for small children to sit through three hours of church meetings. They try their best. She said that missionaries are usually age 18-20, and leave right after high school. It’s a small point, but most men leave at age 19, while women do not go until age 21, and only if they are not married by that time (women, that is). Some have a year or so of college under their belt when they leave. Men then serve for 2 years, while women serve for 18 months. Our men have a greater responsibility to serve because they have the priesthood of the Lord. Women do not hold the priesthood in our church, not because women are less than men, but because they do not need it as much as the men do. Women are very highly regarded and generally treated well in our religion, if the men are living as they should. I have the greatest respect for the men in our church. They are mostly excellent examples of what men should be.
We are also encouraged to plan to serve missions when we are elderly, if health and means will allow. My husband and I are planning on serving when our children are grown if we can. Some missionaries may serve simply because they feel that their families expect it of them, but not all do. My brother chose not to serve a mission, and we don’t think any less of him because of it. However, serving a mission does help young men prepare to handle their adult responsibilities of marriage and fatherhood and handling the priesthood responsibilities they shoulder. Those who don’t serve (including my brother) do often express regrets about that choice later on.
I was sorry that Ms. Reed felt pressure to be baptized. The missionaries are taught to invite people to join. If she felt pressured, it may have been that the missionaries just wanted to get to be the ones who baptized her before they got transferred. They are human, after all. They are expected to teach so many discussions, knock on so many doors, commit so many people to baptism, etc. Being allowed to baptize someone is very exciting for a missionary.
Conversion itself cannot and should not be rushed. It’s a very personal process, and should be made with as much knowledge as you can reasonably gather through study and prayer. We are not intimidated by all of those who speak against our Church. In the end, it’s not our church, it’s the Lord’s. We do not water down our doctrine for anybody. The thing is, the things that are “watered-down” to most people (mostly the things that the missionaries teach) are the least glamorous things. What’s so exciting about faith, or repentance for sins, or the Atonement of Jesus Christ? I teach these things to our own people, and often watch their eyes glaze over. Sometimes my own do as well, simply because we’re taught these same things all the time. Yet these simple things are the most important things, literally life-saving things.
We are, as a people, a little self-conscious. It’s not only our missionaries who have a responsibility to teach the gospel to non-members. We as members are also taught that we are to teach the gospel to others as well, by our example as well as direct teaching. We don’t all knock on doors, but we try to share the Spirit of the Lord whenever we can, however we are allowed to do it. Baptism talks, or any talk, is written with a prayer (or should be) that those who hear it will feel the Spirit of the Lord, and have a desire from that to improve their lives. We don’t just do this with non-members, but we do this to strengthen each other as well. A testimony is a very fragile thing, that must be constantly maintained or it will die. Even long-time members who fail to do the basics (daily prayer, regular reading of holy scriptures, attending church, keeping the commandments) will eventually become offended by something or someone and leave the Church. It’s as consistent as clockwork. Church doesn’t end on Sunday for us. It permeates your whole life. You have to work at being a member of our Church.
What else? She mentioned baptism needing to be total immersion. That is true, but she didn’t go far enough. If a girl has long hair, and even one hair floats above the water, she is required to be baptized again. The immersion must be total. A change that was recently made in our traditions was to eliminate food after the baptism. We encourage our members to celebrate privately if they wish, but at church we focus on the ordinance itself, without the extra frills. That change may have come after Ms. Reed had moved on.
She mentioned being surprised or freaked out on many of the familiar freak-out topics…homosexuality, God having a body, baptism for the dead, plural marriage. I admit that we are very different from other churches in some ways, and this can be a stumbling-block for some. We aren’t different because we like being different. We are different because the Lord requires it. His ways are different than those of the world.
My husband and I have been asked about these things many times. I don’t have the space in this article to adequately address the issues that she raised, but anyone who has questions about those things can contact any member of the Church, or visit www.mormon.org or www.lds.org and ask any question about anything. She also raised a good point. Anyone who’s checking us out can come to church and go to any class. The Gospel Doctrine class is a scripture study class. This next year we as a church are studying the New Testament in this class. The class that’s specifically geared for investigators is called the Gospel Principles class, where the basic doctrines of the church are taught. There will usually be a good mix of members and non-members in that class. The Gospel Principles manual is available to anyone. Ask the bishop or the teacher of the class, and you’ll probably be able to get a free copy. Read it. Come to the class. Ask any kind of question your heart desires. We’ll answer you. You may not like the answer, but we can’t change our doctrine for the sake of bringing in new members. That would be “watering-down”, and we get rebuked for that.
When she said that being equal to God is blasphemous, I figured that Ms. Reed might be coming from a Catholic background. I may be wrong about that, but I know the Catholics and maybe some evangelists feel that way. We consider ourselves to be not just constructions or creations of God. We consider that we are the spirit children of God. He is the Father of our spirits, and then we come to earth through mortal parents. Perfection in mortality is not possible. Only Christ himself was perfect, and that was because he was only half-mortal. We try very hard to live the gospel the best that we can, but the fact is that living the gospel fully is impossible. You would have to be a god to do it fully. That’s why we need Jesus, and why we worship and honor Him as our Redeemer and Messiah. Psalms 82 mentions “gods” (vs.1) and that “Ye are gods, and all of you are children of the most High.”(vs. 6) He’s talking about all of us, Mormon or non-Mormon.
We cannot become gods in this life, but some time in the eternal future we have that kind of potential…the potential to become like our Heavenly Father, whom we will always worship and revere, but never replace. The love that we feel from Him is similar to the love that a father has for his child, only perfect, as He is. I suppose some people may consider that to be blasphemous, but I don’t. I find it comforting and very uplifting and hopeful. It makes me want to know more about Him, and feel more to try and emulate Christ, who was sent to earth as our example of how to live.
I am also sorry that anyone told Ms. Reed that she was going to hell for leaving the church. That was most certainly a misunderstanding of doctrine on the members’ part. Misunderstandings do occur…that’s why we are taught so frequently. I feel that that is most certainly not the case for her. The sin against the Holy Ghost, which is the unpardonable sin, would have to be made with much more knowledge than Ms. Reed had. That would be like having the Lord appear personally to you, reveal the entire plan of salvation and the mysteries of the universe, and then have you turn your back on Him and deny you ever saw it. You would have to work as hard at being evil as a member in good standing would have to work to be good, in order to achieve what we call “outer darkness”. I’m fairly confident that Ms. Reed was not granted that particular level of knowledge. The Lord actually protects us sometimes by taking knowledge that we’ve received, if we are not living up to the standards He requires. You cannot stand still spiritually in this church if you want to progress.
I’m sure she was sorry to lose the friends she had gained in the Church, but there’s a reasonable explanation of that as well. When someone leaves the Church, the assumption often is that that person has turned hostile. Many who leave the Church become somewhat hostile towards us, and nobody enjoys hostile confrontations about religion, including us. They may have been afraid to talk to her anymore, for fear of getting into a battle.
Even perfect doctrine will go strange sometimes when it gets into the hands of mortals. We are all struggling ourselves, no matter how put-together we look in church. None of us live up to the level of knowledge that we have. How many of you know that exercise and eating vegetables is good for you? Now, how many of you actually do it? It’s hard, okay? Our church probably has the highest personal standards of any church I know of. It’s hard, and God knows it’s hard for us. That’s why he sent his Son to atone for our sins, so that Christ could make up for our shortcomings. We have to do our best, and then we get into heaven with His help. Works, plus grace. That’s why we love Him. He is everything. He is life to us. He is, literally, our Saviour.
Some people will turn away from us, as Ms. Reed did. She made a choice that she felt was right, and I totally respect that. I would never try to change her mind against her will. I admire her and thank her for her strength in trying to be fair and objective in her treatment of us. You don’t know how difficult it is to live in such an angry society, where you can’t share the things of your heart with others without being ridiculed and rebuked for your beliefs. It’s such a breath of fresh air to meet someone who’s willing to listen without judging you. You don’t have to convert when you talk to a member of the Church or the missionaries, but it’s wonderful when you take to time to listen and try to understand us, and helping us understand you.
We can’t tell you everything before you get baptized because you can’t learn everything that fast. When the missionaries told her about the “milk and meat” thing, they were referring to a phenomenon that happens when new members focus on the controversial things to the exclusion of the basics. What happens if you try to feed a new baby meat instead of milk? The baby would choke. It wasn’t ready to eat meat. What happens if you go to school and try to learn calculus if you’ve never even learned addition and subtraction? You get frustrated and upset, and then you quit and don’t go anywhere near math ever again. That doesn’t make calculus bad; it just means that tried to take on something you weren’t prepared for. Spiritually speaking, Ms. Reed tried to take calculus before she learned basic math. A new member who’s just been baptized has to wait at least a year before they are eligible to go to the temple, because there’s a level of knowledge and experience that has to be developed before you’re ready to commit to the promises we take on ourselves in the temple. It comes, but it takes time, and study, and experimentation, and prayer. When you learn about something you have questions about, study. Ask questions. Isn’t spirituality worth a little work on our part? If you learn something you absolutely can’t live with, you can always back away as Ms. Reed did, and hopefully you’ll keep some fond memories of us. We don’t want you to pretend to live doctrine you don’t really believe.
Take your time. Ask all the questions you want about anything. Pray to know for yourself about the things you’re learning, when you’re ready. That’s when you’ll find out whether or not it’s true, if you really want to know. When you know, you have the responsibility to act on that knowledge. You won’t be perfect at it. Just do your best and give the rest to the Lord. Honestly, that is enough.
If you decide that it’s not for you, no one will hate you for it. We’ll always care about you, even if we’re afraid to approach you for fear of getting our heads bitten off. We don’t have horns. We’re not supposed to pressure anyone into anything. We’re not evil. We’re not mindless robots. We’re human…just like you.
Thanks for listening, and thanks again to Ms. Reed for her article. Read it. Decide for yourself. That’s all we ask.