I Was a Mormon: Kara S.
I remember the day like it was yesterday: the day when I decided that I was going to convert to Mormonism from an agnostic worldview. I remember that I did not know very much about the religion that I was about to join; I just knew I wanted it. I wanted it because there were a lot of changes going on in my life – most notably, my parents were going through a horrible divorce, and as an only child away at college, I felt that I had no family and no support system. I thought that the message presented by the Mormon missionaries was inspiring, welcoming, inclusive, and beautiful. It was everything I wanted at the time – a sense of community and a place to call home.
I did not know very much about Christianity, the Bible, or Jesus Christ at the time. "We are Christians," the LDS missionaries told me. I didn’t understand why the Christian world viewed Mormonism as a cult, and I was encouraged by the LDS missionaries and my new Mormon friends to not listen to skeptics, the internet, books, or pleadings of those who claimed that Mormonism was false. I was told to pray to God, and that if Mormonism was true, God would send me a "burning in the bosom." Shortly after I prayed this prayer, I was baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
I loved my new community and I became very involved with many aspects of the Church, such as Relief Society, the Church Education System and I participated in temple activities. Because of my involvement and enthusiasm, I craved more knowledge about the church and its history. I began to read and research historical church books and documents. The university I attended at the time had a complete version of the Journal of Discourses in the library, and every day after class I would sit down on the library floor and read the writings of the early Mormon prophets. But the more I read, the more confused I became, because the doctrine and theology I read about in the Journal of Discourses was much different than what I was learning at my local ward. I also started to investigate other historical LDS documents, books, and speeches.
Through my research I learned about historical church doctrine such as plural marriage, how God was once a man, the banning of blacks from the Priesthood, the not-so-virgin birth of Jesus Christ, and how man could achieve Godhood. I also was confronted with many different accounts of the First Vision, and numerous grammatical and content-specific revisions to the Book of Mormon. None of this information was told to me by the LDS missionaries that assisted with my conversion, and when I asked about it at my local ward, I was told that my questions and doubts about changing doctrine were "from the pit of Hell" and that I was "questioning God himself." I was told that "the prophets will never lead the church astray," and that "what they say is exactly the same thing God would say." For some reason, I became slightly obsessed with finding out what cureloms and cumoms were, which are mentioned in the Book of Mormon (Ether). No one ever got back to me on that one.
I soon started to see a different picture of the Church that I loved so much. I began to realize that the history of the Church and the changes in doctrine were largely ignored by most members, and the vast majority of them were quite uninformed or misinformed of LDS Church doctrine and history. The Mormon missionaries were not better in this area either – they were not malicious in intent by any means, but at their young age, many of them have no life experience, no real testimony, and little knowledge of biblical principles and concepts. For example, while at the campus Institute one day, I was talking to an LDS missionary about how stressed I was about exams and college related things. I told him that I read from the book of Proverbs, and that it helped me tremendously to overcome anxiety at the time. His response after seeing some of the passages I read was, "Wow, this is really great - I have never read the book of Proverbs before!"
Rather than rely on facts, historical accounts, and independent documents regarding LDS Church history, I was encouraged to rely on my emotions and feelings to determine whether Joseph Smith was a true prophet and if the LDS Church was the "only true church." My conversion was based on emotions that were stimulated by Mormon missionary discussions, and I was told that these emotions were God’s Spirit telling me that the Mormon Church was true. I was told to "listen to my heart" and I was asked questions like "does it feel right?" and was then told that my feelings were superior to any other kind of evidence that exists.
The problem with relying on feelings to provide theological truth is that feelings can be counterfeited and used to fit whatever situation one wants. I admired the LDS missionaries who met with me, and I wanted to please them. I was overcome with emotion when ward members invited me over for dinner, cared for me, and encouraged me. Yes, I felt a "burning in the bosom," however, I get that same feeling quite often: when I am getting ready to take a test or speak in front of a group, confronted with a serious subject, or when something startles me. It is not a feeling that is distinct to the Spirit of God – it is a feeling that is distinct to an environment of pressure, anxiety, and a longing to be accepted.
It took me a long time to leave the LDS Church. I didn’t want to leave, because I loved the Mormon people so much. I wanted so badly for the LDS Church to be true, but I could not reconcile facts and truth with the ever-changing mosaic of Mormon doctrine. Through all my research, however, there were some things I read that encouraged me. I read about the grace of God, having faith in Jesus Christ, and salvation through God’s grace and mercy. But I did not read about these concepts and spiritual truths in the Book of Mormon or in LDS literature; rather, I read them in the Holy Bible. The gospels and the writings of Paul are very clear about receiving grace through faith in Jesus Christ as being the key to eternal salvation, not works such as temple marriage, endowment ceremonies, keeping the Word of Wisdom, tithing, or serving a mandatory mission. There is nothing I can do to make God love me any more than He already does, and there is no way to earn my salvation through works of any kind. My good works are a result of the Holy Spirit working in me and through me – not through a systematic set of rules and regulations.
Unlike the Mormon system of never ending works and deeds to earn my way into God’s presence, it is through faith in Jesus Christ alone that the burden of sin is taken from off of my back. This is a truth that has not changed for more than 2,000 years, while in less than 200 years the doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has changed numerous times and prophets of the Mormon Church contradict each other through Mormon history. Why can’t the god of Mormonism make up his mind?