Why I chose to be a Latter-day Saint: And not a Mormon

I still remember the smell of the chapel as I sat down five years ago.

It was a scent l I hadn’t smelled before–a scent that I’ve since gotten used to. The walls were bare except for some paintings of Christ and people I didn’t recognize and I wondered briefly where the crosses were. I remember touching the broken spine of a hymnal and only recognizing one or two hymns inside.

It was different. Somewhat strange. It was my first time in an LDS chapel and I had just turned 19.

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But I like looking back at that day. It was that day–before I even read the Book of Mormon–that I chose to be a Latter-day Saint. Already coming from a Christian background, I had done my time and served my sentence of confusion and wondering where the pieces fit. It was that day that I had my first realization that the missionaries seem to glow…for lack of a better term. It was that day that I realized how exciting the stories are in the Book of Mormon. And better yet–how they speak truth. It was that day–in mid summer–that I heard the first hymns I’d ever hear and my eyes filled with tears at “Lord I would follow thee”.

And I often go back to that day to remind myself that THAT is who I chose to be. A Latter-day Saint.

Not a Mormon.

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I know the terms are interchangeable, and I often use the term Mormon, just like you probably do. There’s no harm in that and I’m not splitting hairs. But for the purpose of my story I would venture to say that those two terms mean totally separate things. From being in the church only 5 years, I already would bet my life on it.

It’s so easy to get caught up in being Mormon. Even for me. And that’s because we all start as Latter-day Saints and then get plunged into a culture that demands so much. Pinterest-inspired Relief Society invites, canning activities, the details behind missionary preparation *and God forbid, any hesitancy to go*, The Princess Bride, John Bytheway, short engagements, Stake dances, *and my personal favorite* “So when are you going to have a baby?” after a month of marriage.

I’m not saying all of the culture is bad, because it isn’t. But when you are more immersed in the culture than in the foundation of the church itself–the very reason I stepped into the baptismal font and cried at “Lord I would follow thee”–that’s when you become Mormons instead. That’s when you become a member of a club rather than a disciple of a master.

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And that bothers me.

It bothers me because I still retrace my steps five summers ago into the chapel for the first time and I still remember opening the Book of Mormon and seeing Alma at the top of the page for the first time. I still remember how it felt to learn about forever families— and to not just vainly repeat, “Families are forever” or nail a pretty sign that says the same thing above a door frame. I remember how it felt to really let the message sink in and to cry into my hands when I realized, without a doubt, I’d see my uncle again who died just a month before I learned about the church.

I remember how it felt to say for the first time, “This church is true” and to not be able to go on with what I had to say because it overwhelmed me how true the statement was–and how it changed my life. It wasn’t repetition. I didn’t say it to fill time or to keep up with the standard. My heart just knew it.

missionaries

It bothers me that so many of us have forgotten who we really are because we’ve exchanged it all for a lifestyle made out of old habits. There are those who stray from the culture–the women who work two jobs outside of the home and the single dad; the young man who decides to wait a couple years to serve a mission; the young woman who celebrates 30 years old without a ring on her finger; the couple who can’t have kids; the wonderful stay-at-home mom who is so over-exerted she sees a psychologist every week; the kid with autism who doesn’t fit in. There are thousands–maybe millions–of Latter-day Saints who are forced out of a gospel they fit into because a culture whispers to them that they do not.

And that has to stop. We need to regain footing of who we are and the beautiful gift we’ve been given.

bom reading

When I chose to be a Latter-day Saint I chose that “I would follow, thee”. I chose that I’d spend my whole life telling people about the book that changed my life in a week.  I decided that I’d dress modestly not because everyone is forced to out of tradition, but because I represent Him. Five years ago I learned that the prophets from long ago told the truth and their sacrifices made way for me to find out about the good news–and I can’t forget that. It was my decision to leave it all behind–old beliefs, friends who no longer wanted to associate with me, comfortable familiar church buildings, and songs I learned as a toddler–for an unfamiliar gospel that I somehow KNEW was true. And nothing convinced me of it other than Him. Not culture, not tradition, not anything else.

temple switzerland

Our culture has lots of good, don’t get me wrong. And if we remember why we do some of the things we do the spirit will come back to it. But don’t let it make you forget. Don’t let it deter a soul who has just heard “Lord I would follow thee” and doesn’t know yet that families are forever.

Choose to be a disciple. Choose to be a saint.

Everything else is meaningless.

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The Mormon Controversy: And why it’s hurting more than feminists

The headlines are everywhere. You seriously can’t miss it, even if you deliberately set out to NOT find it.

It’s a Mormon feminist controversy that’s triggering debates, memes, articles, furiously-written status updates, and doubts. It all started with a movement called Ordain Women, and since then it’s transformed and morphed into conversations about possible pending excommunications, human rights, sexism, and faults within the way the Mormon church is run.

I’ve sat back since writing my first article regarding Mormon feminists and have simply watched it happen, realizing that if I stay on board this train it might negatively impact my readers. And from the looks of other blogs, other Mormon writers, and even other friends who simply continue to voice opinions on how the church needs to change, I can see that I was right. This conversation is not just a church conversation now. It’s a world conversation. And it’s hurting more than Mormon feminists.

On what started out as a cry for understanding among church leaders has now taken a turn to be a cry into the world, prompting non-members and those of different faiths to feel sorry for us, fight harder against our teachings, and look toward the Mormon church with distaste. Friends of mine who at one point took genuine interest in learning about my church now see the articles and the heatwave from this controversy and say beneath their breath, “Looks like I was right all along. It’s a man’s church.”

And it’s not. We’re spreading lies–most of the time unintentionally.

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Now I’m an advocate for questions. As a journalist it’s in my nature to be quizzical *and often skeptical* and to always ask “Well, why’s that?”. But I also firmly believe that you need to pay attention to who you’re asking the questions to, and what your motive behind the question is. Your question might be someone else’s stumbling block.

The group of women who first rose up with this question had every right to ask the questions within their church community, to their bishops, counselors, home teachers, or spouses. They had every right to pray and ask of God and to do scripture searching and soul searching to identify their pains, seek answers, and find peace. But the opportunity left as soon as packs of people demanded to be let in to priesthood session, held signs in public that non-members in passing could read and shake their heads at, spoke to newspaper reporters about the oppression of the church, and spoke negatively about a church they often say they love. Questions turned into protests and backlash and anger that were soon fanning the flames of contempt against an already misunderstood gospel.

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And it breaks my heart.

I’ve seen bloggers and columnists say that it breaks their hearts that these feminists are hurting. I understand that.

But it breaks my heart even more that these personal struggles are thwarting God’s work. What should have been a personal journey for answers has turned into a hiccup for my friend who had one foot in the door and now hesitates to believe me when I say that I’m an equal with my husband. It has turned into debates about equality instead of conversations about a loving Heavenly Father who values his daughters and sons equally and gives them such significant roles in life. It has turned missionaries away from doors because of misconceptions, and it has turned active members into bitter, saddened skeptics who listen to the voices screaming from the internet rather than the gentle, truthful voice of the spirit.

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When Christ walked the earth, not once did he sit before his disciples and spark doubt by asking one of them why something had to be. In fact, in the darkest of times, even the times when he felt betrayed by God, he went on his knees before anything–privately communing with the One who gives answers to all questions. It’s okay, obviously, to discuss issues among those whom you trust or who might have advice or an answer to help you, but why discuss things among those whom you’re trying to uplift, strengthen, or teach? Especially on social media, when countless eyes are watching you and learning about your religion through what you say?

We’re forgetting who we are.

We’re forgetting why we’re here.

And worst of all–we’re hurting those we’ve been sent to help. And that’s the biggest shame of all.

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