I Was a Mormon: Sandi Bonner
Hello to all who are reading. I am sure if you are reading this you are either Mormon and may be questioning some of the doctrine and beliefs about the Mormon Church or you know someone who is entrenched in the Mormon Church. I am praying that the Holy Spirit will guide me as I tell my story of the long and winding road that took me through Mormonism, then out of it into the arms of Jesus Christ. To those reading who are Mormon, know that I love you and I want you, as does our great God, to truly experience the grace that God has to offer you. It is this grace that you will not hear of in the Mormon Church. The grace I have come to know is ALL from God through Jesus Christ, and not based on anything you can or will do for Him. It is His unmerited favor to you. This is why I love the following scripture from Ephesians: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works lest any man should boast. For we are His workmanship created in Christ Jesus for good works which God has prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:8-10). Compare that to Mormon scripture, specifically the Book of Mormon, which teaches that “we know it is by grace we are saved, after all we can do” (2 Ne. 25:23).
Ok, then, here is my story. I was born to Jewish parents in 1958. When I was five my mom and dad divorced, and when I was 8 my mom got remarried to somewhat of a tyrant. He was a non-practicing Catholic. My two older sisters would have none of this new man who came in as an unloving authority figure. Our family literally blew apart and my sisters went to live with my dad and I stayed with my mom and stepdad. I spent most of my years in that house walking on eggshells. I guess, if you didn’t know any better, you could say I was a good kid. I was so afraid of my stepfather that I dared not do anything to stoke his anger toward me and so I never did drugs or alcohol or any “really bad” stuff. I never thought of not towing the line, since I knew I would be caught. It was in this atmosphere that I was introduced to Mormonism.
My mom was somewhat of a seeker and when I was 17-years-old she became acquainted with someone she worked with who was Mormon. The missionaries came to our house, told the story of Joseph Smith, how he had prayed and asked for wisdom on which church to join, that he had a vision from God, and His Son telling Smith to join none of them. Not knowing anything at all about the Bible, the story made a whole lot of sense to me, and at the end of the lessons, my mother, stepfather and I all agreed to be baptized. I really think for me, it was the combination of “a way that seemed right to a man” (Prov. 14:12) and having a huge crush on one of the missionaries that taught the lessons.
I was baptized in 1975. I can remember how good it felt, knowing that I had a clean slate; however it didn’t take long before I started to feel the weight of my sins piling up against me. I had decided pretty early on there was no way that I could ever make it to the celestial kingdom, and therefore I was content with the fact that I wouldn’t be there. I wasn’t going to murder anyone or do anything “really bad,” therefore I would be ok if I ended up in the Telestial or Terrestrial kingdoms. There would still be light, as I had been taught in the church. I started attending church every Sunday and MIA (Mutual Improvement Association) during the week, and even seminary in the mornings. There were several of the girls I knew from school, and the people were warm and wonderful. I craved that so, as I wasn’t getting that at home.
Church consisted of sacrament meeting, where the people in the church gave talks, mostly about the Book of Mormon or revelation from the General Authority. Things like man’s ability to live perfectly and become a god of their own kingdom or God having once been a man were not talked about. There were no crosses on or in the church building and it seemed to me that the cross was completely invisible. When Jesus was spoken of, it was in terms of His suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane and not taking on all our sins by dying on the cross.
I eventually went on to attend what is now called BYU Idaho and onto BYU in Utah, from which I graduated. Two things stood out overwhelmingly to me during that time. There are two scriptures/revelations that were constantly quoted. One was the scripture in James that stated “faith without works is dead” and the other one was the former LDS Prophet Lorenzo Snow couplet, “As man is God once was, as God is man may become.” I knew of this belief, that man could become a God, but this was not front and center in the church and I certainly don’t remember this being taught as part of the missionary lessons. I knew I could never be “good enough” and I felt there was no hope of me finding a mate and going to the Temple, because in my mind you had to practically be perfect to go inside the temple.
I also started questioning some of the other teachings of the church. For instance, I started wondering why something that had been given as a “Word of Wisdom” was now a commandment. (At BYU you could literally be expelled from the school if you were caught breaking the Word of Wisdom.) I also started to wonder how only “good and worthy” Mormons would make it to the Celestial Kingdom while Mother Teresa and Billy Graham were only going to make it to one of the other two lower kingdoms. I realized as I had discussions with my fellow Mormons, even the mature ones, they didn’t seem to know if they would be making it to the Celestial Kingdom either. During that time I felt very depressed and hopeless.
After I graduated from BYU, I moved back to southern California where I was from. Because I wasn’t on great terms with my own family, I moved in with a wonderful Mormon family who were mom and dad to one of my good friends and these parents became “mom and dad” to me as well. During that time, I slowly but surely drifted away from the Mormon Church since I knew I couldn’t be “good enough” for the Mormon God, and I really couldn’t believe in that God or the church. I lived the next twenty-five years or so calling myself an agnostic, though believing in God, but not knowing who He was. I knew one thing for sure… I was basically a “good person,” since I generally didn’t lie, steal, do drugs, wasn’t an alcoholic, and I always had a job and supported myself. I did my best to get along with others and had many friends. The god I made up for myself would not send me to hell, if in fact there was such a place.
In 1995 I moved up to northern California. After I had been up there for about a year, my sister, Debbie, and I became estranged. A few years after that, my uncle died and I went back to southern Cal for the funeral. There I had heard rumors that my sister had become a born-again Christian. I just sort of rolled my eyes, and thought, “You have got to be kidding me!” She was the last person I could ever picture being a Christian, especially one of those all-out crazy born-again kinds. We didn’t really reconnect at my uncle’s funeral, but a few years later my grandmother turned 90 and I went down for her big party. My sister and I reconnected there and that was the beginning of my learning about the real Jesus. Her husband had become somewhat of an expert on the doctrines of Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses. When I would go for a visit, I was open to discussing God and Jesus, because I already had a belief in them and their reality. Even though I absolutely did not believe that the Mormon Church was true at all, you still could not tell me at that point they weren’t just a mainstream fundamentalist Christian church. I would argue with my brother-in-law constantly. He told me that The Pearl of Great Price and Doctrine and Covenants were Mormon scripture, and I did not believe him, telling him I had never heard of those books referred to as scripture. Many years and conversations later, I remember just asking myself what if my sister was right about Jesus being God and the only way to Heaven. I have to say I had issues and objections with the way it was done, namely the horrible bloody death that Christ had to die (not to mention taking on all of our sins, which I really didn’t understand yet).
In 2005 I went down to visit my sister and she invited me to a Passover Cedar that the Messianic congregation she knew about was hosting. Apparently if you were Jewish, you could go for free, so she got me a ticket and she didn’t actually go herself. Before the Cedar, my sister put on a Jews for Jesus video called Survivor Stories, which was about survivors of the concentration camps during the Holocaust who had all come to Christ after going through that horror. One of the little old ladies in the video was describing how she had been given a Bible and she started reading it, but had so many objections. Then one day she just put aside all of her objections and accepted the Lord Jesus as her Savior. Instantly I thought that if this woman could put aside HER objections after what SHE had been through, I could certainly lay aside all of MY objections. (Of course what I didn’t understand or realize at the time was that the Holy Spirit was already drawing me.) I prayed to accept Jesus as my personal Savior at the Cedar dinner. I received the Holy Spirit that very night. Within two weeks of that time I joined a Bible-preaching and believing church and have never looked back.
Do I have a perfect life now? Certainly not, but do I know my Savior? I can answer that with a resounding Amen! Do I know Jesus paid it all and that there is nothing I CAN do to merit Gods favor and that I am forgiven and was forgiven while I was despising and sinning against God? Yes I do.
I still find myself getting bogged down in not being “good enough.” I think it is the natural human emotion, however, now I have the everlasting Word of God to go to learn and know all that has been given to me to know about Father God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. It has ALL been revealed by Him in His Word. How wonderful to know our Great God and Savior and to know that He has already completed any WORK that needed to be done! Does this mean I have a license to sin away? Well as Paul said to the Romans in his inspired epistle to them, “Certainly not!” (Rom. 6:1-2) I can honestly say that the freedom I have in Jesus Christ is not something I had in the Mormon Church.
I can only pray that people who are in the Mormon Church will examine what they are taught. Do you really believe that you have a potential to become a God and that God was once like you are now? Even the Book of Mormon, a book that Joseph Smith called “the most correct book on the face of the earth,” says that God is an infinite God from Everlasting to Everlasting (Moroni 8:18). Do you really want to remain in a church that is teaching you too can become Gods like God by vainly doing all you can do? The only way you can become like Him is to believe on Him, repent (turn toward Him), and put on His righteousness, because you have none of your own (cf. Isa. 64:6).
Please know that this testimony is given with love and with hopes and prayers that all will come to Jesus, but most especially do I pray for my Mormon friends!