When I was in sixth grade, I went to a “lock-in” with my friend Jolie, at Olive Baptist Church. Olive Baptist Church was THE church to be a member of at Ransom Middle School. Of course, I was not a member, but as a sixth grader, I assumed that attending a social function at Olive Baptist Church would provided a much needed boost to my social standing at Ransom Middle School. That night, the youth pastor gave a sermon on “cults” that good Southern Baptist students should avoid. During the sermon, “The Mormons” were mentioned over and over and over again. Mormons were of the devil. Mormons were not Christian. Etc. Etc. Etc. After the sermon, my friend Jolie asked me, “What religion did you say that you were again?” I told her that I was a Mormon, and that what the pastor said about us wasn’t true. It was a long lock-in. The rest of the night, I was asked over and over about where my horns were, and why didn’t I believe in Jesus. Needless to say, my social standing at Ransom Middle School did not benefit.
Approximately one week after the lock-in, I was at ballet class after school when one of my friends asked me what church I went to. I paused. After the torment I suffered the prior week, I wasn’t sure that I wanted to be a social outcast in my ballet class too. So I tried to think about the least confrontational religion possible, one that was sufficiently benign for my friend to quickly change the subject. “I am Lutheran,” I answered. I figured, since this wasn’t 15th Century Continental Europe, Lutheran was a good and safe answer. My answer did the trick. My friend quickly changed the subject.
Why do I bring this up? Well, for the past two nights, PBS has been airing their documentary “The Mormons.” I was excited for the two night event. I appreciated the in depth look of the history of Mormonism, and the obvious effort that Ms. Whitney made to interview people from all sides on Mormonism. It was well-researched and respectful. However, I must admit that I was a little disappointed because the series predominately focused on those spotlight PR issues that the LDS church has had in its relatively short history – Polygamy, Mountain Meadows, the Priesthood, etc. Perhaps I was disappointed, because in the struggle to make my faith what it is today, these are all issues that I have already grappled with in coming to my testimony. So maybe I just wanted something more, because PBS usually gives me something more. Some of the issues I thought were pretty summarily dealt with, without as full of an explanation that I would have liked to see. For example, of course the program spent some time talking about the role of women in the LDS church. But while focusing on the “restrictive” roles of women in the church, they didn’t talk about things like Utah being one of the first states giving women the right to vote, etc (but they did spend alot of time talking about the LDS church opposing the ERA). Nonetheless, I will fully admit that it is ridiculous of me to expect a four hour program to go into the depth of detail that I have spent the past 28 years of my life studying and obsessing about. I recognize my bias, but I guess the overall program would have been relatively informative if I didn’t know anything about the LDS church. However, I don’t think that it would have changed the Olive Baptist Church youth pastor’s mind about Mormons being a cult but that probably wasn’t the intent of a documentary about the Church by someone outside of the faith.
What I do appreciate about the program is the following: while watching it, I realized, that unlike myself as a sixth grader, I no longer fear what people will think of me when I tell them I am a Mormon. I no longer fear their questions or comments. As I was watching the program, and I realized that all of the controversies were issues that my own faith has tackled, I felt like I knew myself, in a way that I maybe wouldn’t have synthesized without watching the program’s survey look at the controversial history of Mormonism. It was like after I finished reading Richard Bushman’s biography of Joseph Smith, I felt more convinced than ever that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God and was who he claimed to be. He was so flawed and so human, and I think that it is amazing that God can work through these flawed individuals to bring to pass great things. It is what gives me hope about humanity in general.
The part that I have realized now that I am older, now that I am away from BYU is that so much of faith is both a confrontation and an acceptance of doubt. I have never had in my life an overwhelming experience of certainty with regard anything. I am a person who is constantly obsessing about things that I do not know and that I cannot predict. I have no shortage of anxiety about those daily things. However, the reason why my testimony in the gospel of Jesus Christ is what it is today, is because the unknowns in the gospel realm do not cause me anxiety. They cause me to study, they cause me to pray, they cause me to ponder, and they cause me to hope. So much of why I love the gospel as restored to Joseph Smith is because it is a recognition of several principles that are so optimistic for humankind – the idea of eternal progression, the belief in continuing revelation, and the knoweldge of the Savior’s personal atonement and the chance for redemption for everyone. These concepts all go together for me on both a personal and institutional level. Just as I am a constantly developing person who has the ability to learn and grow, so is the church a constantly developing institution that has the benefit of continuing revelation. God is perfect, but God sometimes has to work through imperfect beings. This is why truth is revealed “line upon line.” If the perfect structure of Heavenly Father’s order was simply plopped down on the earth, we couldn’t handle it, because we probably wouldn’t understand it at this time. What I believe, is that we are led by a prophet who reveals to us what our loving Heavenly Father sees as being in our best interest at this time. God is unchanging, but we do not have his perfect view of things with our mortal limitations.
As an example, one of the historic aspects of the church which I have the hardest time with is why it wasn’t until 1978 that the priesthood was given to all worthy men. Some of the racist comments of early church leaders have always bothered me. Of course, no one knows the reason why 1978 suddenly was the time when the church stopped its racist policy. However, my own personal view is that was the right time because it was the time when church members were ready, not because suddenly black men suddenly became worthy. The racist statements of many of the earlier members of the church showed me that the institutional structure wasn’t ready at the time. Because the church operates through men and women who are flawed, Heavenly Father, in my view, works through our own cultural levels of understanding. I think he has to do things that way so the structure doesn’t just entirely fall apart.
Anyway, this has been a long post on my own personal religious views on things that I probably wouldn’t ordinarily post in this way. However, I wanted to because I am no longer the 11 year old who was ashamed of who she was. I love the person that I am when I am doing the things that my religion teaches me to be. I want to be the person who unequivocally uses the Savior as an example of how she lives her life. It isn’t about eternal reward or whether I am right or wrong, because at the end of my days, if it turns out that I was wrong about my faith, then I still will feel like I have lived a pretty great life if I have guided my life by the gospel principles I have learned in the LDS church. So I can happily say now, “I am a Mormon.” Go ahead and call me a peculiar person.