Questions to Gospel Answers

"What’s happening with your life?"

“What’s happening with your life?” This is the question that I'm often asked by Mormon friends and family members when they are open to learning about my journey of faith. I'd like to include on this page a letter I just recently sent to a life-long LDS friend. I've known her and her husband since I was eight years old. This woman, who I'll name Jean on this page, was still a newly-wed when I first met her and her husband, who I'll refer to as Tom. Tom was my first Cub Scout Pack Leader. We have stayed close through the years. As an adult when I was asked to be a Cub Scout Pack Leader I used the same cheers, activities and award presentations that Tom had used when I was a boy.

Jean cornered me last month at the wedding reception for my second oldest son and asked me “What’s happening with your life?”, meaning, how did I come to be Catholic? She had heard about this from others but wanted to hear it from me. Having "lost" three of her four children from the church she wanted to know why I left, what went wrong? We had a wonderful talk. On St. Patrick's Day I received an equally wonderful handwritten letter from her. Before I get to my response, I'd like to give you a thumbnail sketch of my life.

I was born on October 16, 1955 in Denver, Colorado. As a child, my family moved from Denver to Washington D.C. to Seattle WA to Corpus Christi, TX then back to Denver when my dad got out of the Army. We moved to Evanston, IL so my dad could go to Northwestern University. Shortly after moving to Illinois, President Kennedy was shot, and yes there are tears in my eyes as I type these words. We moved to Arlington Heights, IL when I was in 6th grade. After high school I went to BYU for a year then the next two on an LDS mission to Texas and to Brazil. I returned in 1977 (I missed the whole "Philadelphia Feeling" thing, returning when the group Abba was popular) and married my girlfriend from church who had waited for me and had written to me as faithfully as my mom did, every week while I was gone. We returned to BYU where in 1980 I graduated summa cum laude with an undergraduate B.S. in Accounting and a Masters of Information Systems. I went to work for Ernst & Young in Cleveland, OH for a year. We moved back to Arlington Heights 20 years ago and bought the house that we are still living in today. I passed the CPA exam in 1982. We have 7 wonderful children, 5 boys and 2 girls. Two are in college at BYU and we have one child in each of the other levels of schooling from pre-school to high school. (Our oldest is almost 23 and our youngest is 3). We have one married child and he and his wife are expecting our first grandchild later this year. Life has been good but challenging as I am finding out it’s supposed to be.

One of my Catholic web friends thought this sketch sounded like the perfect LDS life, right? Well on the surface it might appear to be that ultimate life that Mormons try so hard to achieve and portray to their non-members friends. However, peeking inside this life, we find that no one lacks for challenges, sacrifices or conflicting priorities, not even Mormons. We have all fallen short of the glory of God and have cause for repentence and redemption.

Here's my rather lengthy response to my friend Jean. Come with me for an inside look at some of the childhood experiences impacting my journey of faith:

April 7, 2001

Dear Jean,

Thank you so much for writing a handwritten letter that I received on St. Patrick’s Day, the day I started what has turned out to be a long letter in reply. I just don’t see much in the way of hand written mail anymore. I don’t write much by hand except at times of death.

I already tried to share the written story of my journey of faith, including my questions with my parents. My mom won’t read it, saying, “I didn’t raise an apostate”, and I doubt that my dad would have taken the chance to read what I had to say, especially because it is true and truth can lead us do things that are very uncomfortable. My parents would rather be comfortable. So, don’t share my letters to you with them, but please, as the Spirit directs, talk with them – but be careful.

I never expected to hear from you again especially raising issues for me to consider about my faith. Silence on religious issues has been my experience with those LDS friends that I have shared my experiences with. Oh, we are still friends but we don’t talk about religion after the one discussion to find out “what’s been going on in my life”.

I do believe that my parents are part of the reason why I can’t feel God in an LDS context. I spent my whole life without a dad, or at least I had to share him in his role as father of the ward and stake in his roles of leadership including Bishopric, Young Men’s President, Bishop, Stake President, Mission President and Temple Presidency. In my recollection, my dad never once sat with us in church, he was always up front on the stand.

As far as family vacations go, I can only remember going on two with my family, one when I was in 1st grade and the other when my mom’s dad died and we went out the next summer to settle his estate in Idaho. As for other family activities, we would go out to eat as a family on Fast Sundays after the meetings and we always tried to make something special of those long double sessions of Stake Conference. For example, when I was 6 we traveled from Corpus Christ, TX (named for the Body of Christ) to San Antonio (named after the Franciscan, St. Anthony of Padua) for Stake Conference and we went to the zoo and I got to ride on the train. When we lived in the Wilmette Stake we always brought a lunch for Stake Conference. Once I nearly chocked to death on a brownie that we purchased there after we finished our lunch from home. Fortunately I was able to run to the drinking fountain on the side of the stage before I passed out, and was able to force water down my throat with a life saving swallow. (This was way before Heimlich had come along…)

When I was a scout, family vacation meant sharing dad as the goal oriented scoutmaster driven by merit badges and rank advancement. A few years later as a teenager I went on summer family vacations with my friends, once to Denver where I stayed with my grandparents, and one time to Utah. Then there were those youth temple trips that took the place our family vacations. I think I grew to hate the church and the temple on the inside while on the outside I was active; I helped to build the ward building, working with my dad to construct the roof and then later in painting the Bishops’ offices. I gave 10% of my paper route money for tithing and an extra 5% to help build the temple.

When I was a freshman at BYU, my parents took my sisters and brother to Hawaii but to meet a temple attendance goal they made my siblings wait for them at the temple dressed in their Sunday clothes while they did their session. My sisters were very upset that they couldn’t have been on the beach. I’m so glad I had finals that week at BYU and couldn’t go with them!

Family Home Evening was known as “Family Fight Night” in our family. I can’t remember a single family night that brought us closer together as a family, except when my grandparents visited on very rare occasions from out-of-town (Denver and Seattle). The LDS church caused our family to sacrifice family happiness in this life in hopes of the life to come.

When I was almost 12, I first realized that something was wrong when I refused to spend even a night in the same tent as my dad while at scout camp. I cried years later when as a father myself all of my sons spent at least their first year at camp as my tent buddy. They did this on their own. Stephen even moved in with me after two nights of being in another tent that was always a mess.

Our family vacation to Idaho in 1970 was typical of all our family outings with constant fighting in the car. Also, the church was always there and part of our “vacations”. On this trip my parents wanted to go to the temple in Lehi since some family also lived there. We drove down, all dressed in our Sunday best. When we got to the temple, my mom and dad went in, not knowing what they were doing, and not understanding why my brother and sisters and I couldn’t go into the temple with them. They left us there in the car where we waited so long I almost decided to drive the car around the block, since they had left me with the keys. They pretty much repeated this again on that trip to Hawaii while I was at BYU. This experience plus the youth temple trips to Washington D.C. made the temple a very negative part of my life.

Even baptisms for the dead were not a good experience for me since at a young age I had almost drowned and the smell of treated water and the feel of enclosed high humidity would cause my heart to race. I was filled with a sense of panic as I tried to catch my breath between dunks.

My first temple experiences going through the washings, anointings and the Endowment were not pleasant and were in fact a little scary to me. My parents had not told me anything about the temple. I went through my first time by myself at the SLC temple with a large number of new missionaries, one of only three that hadn’t already gone through. (Just think how awkward I felt in my BVDs that first night in the mission home while all these other young men are wearing those old one piece garments.) The washings and anointings were very invasive even with the shield on. I was so worried that the ordinance workers were going to touch my private parts – I was scared to death. The Endowment went by very quickly, I almost forgot the new name. After the Endowment I was sure that if I revealed anything from the temple outside it’s walls that someone in the church was going to kill me, either cutting off my head, tearing out my heart, or disemboweling me. I didn’t desire to ever go back. Even now after over five years of being Catholic, I am relieved that I don’t have to ever go back there and I don’t miss it at all.

When I was in the LTM in Provo learning Portuguese for my mission to Brazil, I really never wanted to waste my one day off going to the temple, but I had to because it is where my comp wanted to be.

The Celestial Room in every LDS Temple that I’ve been in reminded me of my front room growing up in Arlington Heights and as such never held any special reason for me to stay there. I couldn’t wait to move out of my parent’s house. I don’t like going there on visits and I would NEVER want to live in that house again. (Our family therapist that we had while dealing with Stephen was very surprised by my deep and painful associations with that house. For example, when my parents went on their 1st mission, I didn’t even want to take care of it. Boarding it up would have been fine with me. As it turned out my dad found a nice couple from church to live there for three years, something I felt my mom had wanted me to do.)

Through all this however, I would tell others and myself that the LDS church was true. It had to be true because all the other churches were false. I viewed my feelings towards my parents, the church, and the temple as a personal fault of my own, tied to sin. If I could just be a better person…

I felt good about the church until I was a teenager and I guess I never made it through that most difficult time of growing up. As a child I passed out Article of Faith cards to my friends. I also tried to bring my Jewish friends into the church when we lived in Evanston. (‘How could your church have killed Jesus?’ I would ask my Jewish friends in grade school. This made me very unpopular with several parents.)

I had worked my entire life for three goals, to go on a mission, be married in the temple and to go to college. The mission took on a political dimension in my early teens as a way to avoid going to Vietnam. Every year when the draft lottery was held my number was always more than 200. When they picked it for my birth year, I got a 52. Fortunately, President Nixon got us out of there a year or two before my draft reclassification as a minister would have come into play.

I taught lots of people about the church and Joseph Smith on my mission and unlike my father, I had the opportunity of baptizing many people. My dad told people on his return that since he had very limited successful with converts on his mission, he’d just have to come home and raise them. I was raised to be the convert my dad didn’t get to baptize when he was a missionary.

While in Brazil, I worked in Rio and in its suburbs for a few months before being called as the Financial Secretary (the Contador) for the Mission. (As a result of this experience I majored in accounting on my return and I’m a CPA today.) In those days we were a “real” mission, providing support to branches from Rio to Manaus. There were only two Stakes, one in Rio and one on the other side of the bay in Niteroi.

I worked as the Financial Secretary in the Mission Home for seven months, paying the bills for the Mission, exchanging US dollars for Cruzeiros at a travel agency (where we got a better rate than that given by the banks), and receiving the tithes and offerings from the branches including donations for the new temple being built in San Paulo. I was in Brasil from 1975-77, in the days when the Mormon church denied the priesthood and temple blessing to Blacks because as the church explained, the were related to Cain. (Click here for more about this…) We had to teach a special "linage lesson" to everyone that looked Black in any way.

We lived with the “linage lesson” and this doctrine my entire mission. I taught the “linage lesson” to all of our converts in Brazil. It was never rejected and we baptized many people who believed that God the Father and Jesus Christ had appeared to the boy Joseph Smith even though no man can see the face of God and live. (see Exodus 33:20 and John 14:8-10. Before the last supper you may recall the apostles hear the Father but they never see Him. [John 12:23-30] At the last supper, Phillip asked Jesus to reveal the Father to them. Jesus disappointed in Phillip’s lack of understanding, tries to make him realize that the Father is in Jesus and Jesus is in the Father in such a way that having seen Jesus he had seen the Father. The fact that Joseph Smith changed his story of the First Vision seventeen years after having it to include the Father [the earliest versions only had Jesus] is another objective proof that Joseph Smith was not the person my relatives in the 1840’s believed him to be.)

Shortly after returning from my mission I heard the news reported on the radio that all worthy men could receive the Priesthood and attend the temple with their families. I was very happy for this change in a church doctrine that I had once defended and accepted as being true. I still believed the church was true. The news about the Blacks and the priesthood was an indication of its truthfulness and pointed to our really having a living prophet. I am saddened to learn that the LDS church is today trying to rewrite it’s history by denying that it ever espoused a rational that explained and supported why Blacks could be denied the Priesthood.

A near death experience in a car accident convinced me that life could be short and there was no good reason to delay asking my girlfriend (who had waited for me and had written me every week I was on my mission) to marry me. My life was still on the same course set for me by my parents and the church…

Through the years, I discovered that there were some problems with how I was raised and what I was taught but I was always able to put these problems and questions behind me just like I had in Brazil with the issue about the Blacks and the priesthood. (I also found out in Brazil that the papyrus used by Joseph Smith for the Book of Abraham had been found and that actual translations were not even close to anything in the Book of Abraham.)

I would very likely still be going to church with my family today had I not gone to London on business in 1992. In London I discovered God in a way that had not been open to me since I was a teenager. I was filled with God’s love. I cried. I spent every minute I could in an ancient English church in prayer and study. I’ve not put down my Bible or my books ever since. My life was changed on that January day in 1992 when I walked in a little late for the Evensong service at the Westminster Abbey in London.

Those little things (like the linage of Cain, the Book of Abraham, Joseph Smith’s non-use of the plates in bringing forth the Book of Mormon, his death as a combatant rather than as a humble martyr, his rapidly evolving theology of God that made it possible to make a 14 year old girl his wife along with many other women) that I so easily dismissed in the past were not so easy to dismiss any longer. What I had considered little actually turned out to be objective evidence that the faith that I had been taught and had suffered for as a child and as a teenager was not true. And why wasn’t it true? Because I had found for myself that the Church that Jesus established through Peter and the Apostles was still on the Earth and that the gates of Hell had not prevailed against it according to His promise. (Matt 16:18)

I agree with you that the Universal Church of Jesus Christ, which is his Body, has suffered much. But this suffering of Christ’s Body did not begin with the Popes; it began when Jesus was born into our existence, and continued during His Earthly life which lead to the garden and then to the cross, and continues still through the years until our own day and time. And who inflicts painful wounds into the Body of Christ, which is his Church? People very similar to the wicked people that betrayed him and had him nailed to the Cross.

Various popes and priests have been corrupt through the ages, as you have pointed out. The worst of these was Alexander Borgia who sold indulgencies to rebuild St. Peter’s in Rome. He had a daughter and a son and made no attempt to act privately regarding them (as Joseph Smith did with his polygamous children) or because of them but did all he could to secure a good marriage for his daughter and a good position for his son. Martin Luther had every right to be upset with his church that was very much in need of a reformer prophet like St. Francis who rebuilt the church from within during the 13th century. If Alexander Borgia has any redeeming quality it is that he supported sending Christopher Columbus to find what is now the Americas and the fact that unlike Joseph Smith, Borgia never tried to change Church doctrine to justify his own personal life style, a life style so unworthy of a successor of St. Peter.

Perhaps I should say a little about St. Francis, a man some have called the last Christian, while others have called him the only Christian. The life of St. Francis is truly that of a person whose calling and election has been made sure. Jesus spoke directly to St. Francis and told him to rebuild his Church. For several years St. Francis thought this meant to rebuild the old churches that had fallen in to ruin in his part of Italy. After repairing several church buildings he went back to Christ and told him that he had done what Jesus had asked him do. Jesus then told him that he had misunderstood; St. Francis was being called to rebuild the Church not a bunch of church buildings. Pope Innocent III at about the same time had a dream of this little man of Christ holding the Lateran Cathedral from falling over, symbolic of St. Francis’ work in saving the Church.

You mentioned baptism in your letter. What about infant baptism? Put simply, infant baptism replaced infant circumcision in males and included females in the sacrament of baptism. What about sin? Baptizing a child when 8 years old is the same as baptizing an infant since neither is capable of personal sin. If baptism is done for the remission of personal sin then baptism should not be performed until after legal age is obtained when a person is free from parental control and can choose for him or herself – much like St. Augustine of Hippo did in the 4th century, being baptized as a young man and in fact at that time a father of a son. Children are baptized as infants or at 8 years of age not for the remission of personal sin but for a remission of our sinful natures, a sinful nature that cuts us all off from the direct presence of God – all of us – children and infants too. Baptism is the gate through which Jesus said all must pass in order to enter heaven. Given the number of people who have died without baptism, I believe as Joseph Smith used to believe that baptism is symbolic of a rebirth that must occur within the soul of every person, living or dead.

I find it interesting that D&C 137:5-7 taught that baptism was not necessary to enter into heaven for persons who would have received the gospel with all their hearts had it been offered during the their life. Thus we see that baptism for the dead is not necessary!

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that the Church entrusts children that die without baptism “to the mercy of God, as she does in her funeral rites for them. Indeed, the great mercy of God who desires that all men should be saved, and Jesus’ tenderness toward children which caused him to say: ‘Let the children come to me, do not hinder them,’ allow us to hope that there is a way of salvation for children who have died without Baptism. All the more urgent is the Church’s call not to prevent little children coming to Christ through the gift of holy Baptism.”

What about the form of baptism? Was there only one way in which to perform this sacrament? Was the way that Jesus was baptized in the River Jordan the preferred, the only way? Not many people are baptized today in rivers or other running, living waters, as was Jesus. Is there any evidence from the primitive church that can help us understand the various practices of baptism today?

The Didache was a Christian document thought to have originated in Syria about 60-100 A.D.. Originally composed in Greek, it was the Teaching didache or the "Doctrine of the Twelve Apostles" and certainly of antiquity. Some say it was authored by the Twelve Apostles, some think that it was penned during the first ecumenical council about 50 A.D., others think it was written later in the second century. It is genuine and may be the oldest surviving Christian document outside of the New Testament canon. Lost throughout the centuries, it was not until the nineteenth century that it was re-discovered by the Archbishop Bryennios of Nicomedia and published in 1883, years after the death of Joseph Smith.

The Didache is of considerable historical importance because it reveals the condition, structures and beliefs of the Christian communities toward the end of the first and the beginning of the second century, i.e. the primitive church. Among other things it speaks of the system of the pastorate with the division of deacons and bishops and presbyters and speaks of prophets and apostles in the church. It was the first document to append the ending to the Lord's prayer: "Thine is the power and the glory for ever and ever." It is like a handbook of catechetical instructions, liturgy and church organization. The work is anonymous. The Didache makes 22 quotations from Matthew, references to Luke, John, Acts, Romans, Thess, I Peter and speaks of the "Gospel" as a written document.

Didache 7:1 But concerning baptism, thus shall ye baptize. Having first recited all these things, baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit in living (running) water.

Didache 7:2 But if thou hast not living water, then baptize in other water; and if thou art not able in cold, then in warm.

Didache 7:3 But if thou hast neither, then pour water on the head thrice in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Didache 7:4 But before the baptism let him that baptizeth and him that is baptized fast, and any others also who are able; and thou shalt order him that is baptized to fast a day or two before.

What does this mean? It means that the preferred method for baptism is by immersion in running water. If this was not possible, most likely in urban settings, then the Apostles gave other instructions that could be followed. Each following method was less preferred but still acceptable. This follows the Old Testament precedent of allowing different sacrifices depending on the ability of the worshipper, e.g., Mary and Joseph offered two young pigeons not having a lamb to offer. (Lev 12:6-8, Luke 2:24) (I think it should be noted that even the LDS have changed the sacrament of the Eucharistic from the form that Jesus gave, no longer using unleavened bread and wine but using any type of bread with water. This change, Mormons believe, was done through revelation. Why can’t Mormons see the Holy Ghost working through the Apostles in the early church, settling disputes like the first one about Gentiles in the church or this one concerning how to baptize without a river?

Many things have changed in the LDS church in my short life. We have gone from a belief in the literal gathering of Zion on this the American continent to an acceptance of a gathering of Zion anywhere in the world where there is a Stake of Zion. What are some of the other fundamental beliefs from my childhood that are not currently embraced by Mormon theology?

This is what I was taught as a child and what I taught as a missionary:

God the Father was once a man like we are now and we may progress as he did and become a God like him.

We have always existed as intelligences. God the Father and one of his many wives created our Spirit bodies to house our intelligences. Jesus was the first born spirit offspring of God the Father (this is why Mormons call Jesus their “Elder Brother”). Satan was the second born spirit. The rest of us came along after these two spirits.

God the Father and his wives have physical bodies and in order to progress to be like God the Father we also need physical bodies. God devised a plan (the organization of the Earth from pre-existing and co-eternal matter) so we could receive bodies. Jesus supported this plan and Satan opposed it. Satan and his followers were caste out of heaven, 1/3 of all the spirit children of God the Father. Of the 2/3rds remaining in heaven, some of Spirit children of God had been valiant followers and supporters of Jesus in his fight against Satan while others had not been. Those that were not valiant were born as descendants of Cain who was marked by God with Black skin to protect him from being hunted down and killed after he had murdered his brother Able.

God the Father created all things by organizing co-eternal and pre-existing matter but he did this through the un-embodied Jesus and through Adam, a man (a God?) with a body, who had come from another world (this teaching about Adam was taught by Brigham Young but in the early 1900’s it was rejected by the Church and is no longer taught except it has strangely remained a part of the temple Endowment.)

Jesus was born into our physical existence just like any other person is born, except he had God the Father for his father. (This used to be believed quite literally and I was taught this in 1975 as a missionary in the LTM, i.e., God the Father, a physical being, and Mary had a child in the normal physical way…) Jesus thus became the Only Begotten Son of the Father in the flesh. Jesus is NOT the Only Begotten Son from before all time, but in time, and in the flesh. Jesus is NOT God from God, Light from Light, or True God from True God. Jesus is part of creation, the first fruits of that creation. In this respect, Mormonism tends to be a little Arian, a heresy that took control in major portions of the Church in the 4th century.

Jesus progressed as we all do, except he alone was without sin, and therefore was able to be offered as a sinless sacrifice for our guilt.

Jesus fulfilled his mission on Earth and received all power, dominion, and glory. Jesus earned the right to be another God just like God the Father, an example for the rest of us to follow.

I’ve detected that the LDS church over the last 10 years is moving to embrace Jesus as a pre-existent God (but inconsistently as a God without a body) from the beginning in accordance with the Gospel and Epistles of St. John. This is quite a bit different from Jesus being our “Elder Brother” who becomes a God in time. Actually it is somewhat ironic that the current move of the LDS church back to a belief in Jesus as a real God from the beginning is what the Book of Mormon has always taught, ‘that God himself came down among the children of men, and redeemed his people.’ (Mosiah 15:1, with a change to the tense to put it in the past rather than the future). “And they are One God, yea the very Eternal Father of heaven and of earth”. (Mosiah 15:4) ONE God, not three Gods, not countless numbers of gods, but ONE God! 2 Nephi 31:21 states this about the Godhead: "And now, behold, my beloved brethren, this is the way; and there is none other way nor name given under heaven whereby man can be saved in the kingdom of God. And now, behold, this is the doctrine of Christ, and the only and true doctrine of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, which is one God, without end. Amen."

Mormon doctrine is in a constant state of flux – and many Mormons see this as a positive sign that God stills needs a living prophet on the Earth today.

So much in Mormonism can only be understood in the light of the Roman Catholicism from which it and all other Western versions of Christianity came. For example, the Blessing of Children as infants, Confirmation, works for the dead, purgatory (known to the LDS as suffering as Jesus suffered if we don’t repent), the temple, it’s altars, the veil, the hammer and the thrice knocking to enter God’s presence, the temple covenants of Chastity, Obedience, and Consecration (this last covenant is known to Catholics as a vow of Poverty). These all came from Catholicism. One hundred years ago, the LDS even used to have a Catechism patterned after the Catholic Baltimore Catechism. The structure of the LDS church is that of Catholic Church except, as in the original church, the Catholic Church doesn’t exert centralized control like the LDS church does.

I really appreciate your offer for me to contact you and Tom at any time to chat. I know that the Church that Jesus established is on the Earth now and always has been. Thanks for being such good examples for me throughout my life from when I was eight years old until now and for helping to prepare me to embrace the truth when God made it known to me. You and Tom have always been there for me.

True forgiveness is giving up all hope for a better past.

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