One unfortunately thing that I come across with some frequency here in the blogosphere are stories of people who left my Church. It pains me to see anyone who through life experiences does not find joy in the Faith that gives me so much joy. I also worry that their stories might be a motivating factor to others who are struggling with faith and doctrines. While I know there are many blogs that shed positive light on my Church, they typically focus on culture, doctrine, or lifestyle. Rarely is there ever a story of how one finds continual commitment to the Church, an antithesis of the “Why I left the Church” story.
I was pondering D&C 46: 13-14
13 To some it is given by the Holy Ghost to know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that he was crucified for the sins of the world.
14 To others it is given to believe on their words, that they also might have eternal life if they continue faithful.
I know that I have been blessed to know that Jesus is the Son of God, and so I felt that I need to put my story out there, not as a criticism or condemnation of those who write about leaving the Church, but to simply put parallel information out there for those who may need some reassurance in moments when faith is challenged.
I am a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints because I have received guidance from the Holy Ghost that this is what Heavenly Father wants for me, and I have had this reconfirmed to me on multiple occasions. It might sound simple, but it supposed to be a simple teaching. Jesus himself told Nicodemus that a person must be born of the Spirit.
The moments in my life when the Spirit has spoken to me so profoundly that I could not deny its influence are very personally sacred to me and I do not share them lightly, so please forgive me if I am scant on the details (and please know that if you contact me privately I will be much more open). The first time I knew that God was speaking to me was after I had experienced a temptation as a teenager and turned away from that temptation rather than indulge. I was torn if I had made the right decision and in a moment of prayer was touched so powerfully by the Spirit that never will a day pass in my life that I will be able to deny the existence of God. Another time happened a couple years later when I was warned through revelation to avoid a specific activity. More have followed in my adulthood, one of which I have written about previously.
While I will never be able to deny the existence of God, deciding that my path to follow him would require my lifelong commitment to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is a separate matter. In fact, committing to any one specific church is a very, or any church at all, is a challenging proposition given the adversarial nature that has accompanied Faiths in the history of humanity. Basically, I think that in addition to being born of the Spirit a person needs to be converted to a specific Church in order to know he or she is in the right place. For me, I find that I am constantly being reassured through the Spirit that I am in the right place.
There are so many great reasons to be a Mormon! There really are. I love the companionship that a ward congregation provides and the emphasis on the family that has allowed my immediate and extended families to strive for closeness and forgiveness. I love the service opportunities of mission work, disaster relief, food storage, employment assistance, personal and mental counseling, and companionship that I have been both a recipient and a provider of. I love the simple doctrinal truth of the necessity of turning towards the Savior, Jesus Christ, for forgiveness from our sins, and the additional knowledge the Book of Mormon provides regarding the Savior’s atonement. I love that we have a First Presidency and Quorum of Apostles who, along with their spouses, selflessly sacrifice the entirety of the golden years of their lives shepherding a church that grows by the millions every few years.
Yet I know there is enough other information to dissuade and discourage many from joining or committing to the Church. Historical issues are plentiful: discrimination, reverse-persecution, polygamy, polyandry, financial crises, property disputes, personal vendettas, murders, and massacres, to name a few (I’d like to say I’ve been exposed to just about everything at this point, but I’m sure that someone could still dig up something that would be new information to me). Our modern issues are also numerous and complex: gender power disparities, LGBT issues, managing the ramifications of decades of discrimination, income inequalities, involvement in politics, central control vs regional autonomy, preservation of diverse cultures, suppression of adversarial voices, debatable economic investments, I could go on.
How to I reconcile all this? This messy web of positive influences and negative influences. How can I commit myself to an organization that, while provides me with so much, is also very, very imperfect? How am I supposed to stay when I learn some new detail about Joseph Smith polygamy practices, or confront a member of the Church who clings to prejudices against Africans and justifies them with pre-1978 statements from prophets and apostles, or I learn about a economic investment the Church is making that I disagree with, or any of the other undesirable things that seem to accompany being a member of the Church?
Well, the answer that I have is given in the words that Jesus Christ gave to Oliver Cowdery when he had questions:
Verily, verily, I say unto you, if you desire a further witness, cast your mind upon the night that you cried unto me in your heart, that you might know concerning the truth of these things. Did I not speak peace to your mind concerning the matter? What greater witness can you have than from God?
If you have ever been given a witness of something from God, I personally find that it is best to trust in that witness, remember it, and keep it in your heart. We live in a world where we are constantly bombarded by challenges, some of them societal and some of them personal. So many times we will have the things we hold dear questioned and ridiculed, and many times what we think is right will be wrong (we should always be careful to not favor dogma over truth), but if ever in your life there has been a time that God spoke to you, never forget it. Don’t let people convince you it didn’t happen, you know it did, stay strong to that. If you have never felt you have had God speak to you, then try and speak to him.
Regarding the historical and modern day issues in the Church that can challenge you, never be scared to learn, but do so out in the open. Talk about the things that you learn with real people, not in the anonymous and impersonal realms of the Internet. Get the words of your doubts out through your mouth to a person (preferably people), not just into black and white text of a comment box or blog page; this way you will be able to have your emotion carried with your words to allow the person a better way to respond. Understand that the historical things you discover exist on the Internet because people know them, don’t fall for the false canard that because people don’t always discuss it it has been covered up; don’t assume that your faithful family members or friends are unaware of them just because they are new to you. For modern day issues, remember that they are worked through in the Lord’s time. I personally hate (and I don’t use that word lightly) that it took from until 1978 for the Priesthood to be universally available to men when the leadership new the policy was non-revelatory since at least the 1920s, but I trust that the Lord can make up for the mistakes of men, including prophets, through the atonement. I don’t know how the LGBT or gender inequality issues facing us today will be resolved, but I believe they will be.
I believe in a God that loves all His children regardless of the Church they belong to or the faith and ideas they hold, and I believe that He loves each and every one of us. I hope that if you are someone who is currently debating how to live your life in accordance with God and your conscience that you will find something that works for you. For me, that has required remaining committed to God since the moment that he first spoke to me, and trusting in the Church he guided me to for helping me use this mortal probation to prepare to meet Him.