There was a time, when, every Sunday morning I listened to a middle-aged man clad in business suit and tie, surrounded by at least 200 others - men in suits and ties, women in 'modest' dresses. That scene seems bizarre now - yet it will always have an undeniable air of familiarity.
Salt Lake is a long way from Canterbury.
It's about time I shared my spiritual past, and how it looks in retrospect.
I was raised as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, more commonly known as "Mormons." (You can read about the doctrinal beliefs and practices in that article.)
My father's side of the family have been practising Mormons since the mid-to-late 19th century - they were Scottish and English converts who sailed across the Atlantic to settle in Utah and Arizona. I'm a 3rd generation Mormon through my mom's side.
It is ironic, then, that my dad is an atheist, while my mom remains a devout member of the LDS church. It is my mother who has been my biggest supporter, and a great obstacle throughout this. I'm grateful for the virtues she taught me, and I'm proud to be her son.
I started having issues with Mormonism when I was 13. I put aside my doubts and struggled to become the best little "Peter Priesthood" I could be. I was the kid who wore an "Angel Moroni" tie tack to band concerts and carried the Book of Mormon around at school ready to "share the Gospel" at any given moment.
Yeah, I was that kid.
Everything came crashing down when I was about 15. I had been praying to God for three years to make me straight. No reply. My problems with the church weren't going away, and I felt like I had no one to turn to. Every day and night was spent paralyzed in terror of the growing suspicion that I was going to burn for all eternity for being gay, cut off from all family and friends, and that I deserved it. I hated myself, and was on the verge of acting out the ultimate expression of self-hatred in the form of suicide, but by the grace of God, I was saved from myself. I experienced an overwhelmingly powerful spiritual transformation that night. It was as though the very arms of Christ were around me. For the first time in my life, I knew that I, along with everybody else, was completely and unconditionally loved by God.
And that's the whole point of it all, right?
Religion, belief, ritual - it all points to the single most important Truth that any human being can and must learn - You are loved by the One who created you.
I had no idea what to do with this new information.
All I knew was that what 'the Church' was saying was different from what God was saying. The two just weren't quite connecting on the level they ought to be if this was truly God's "one true church."
So I researched.
I devoted all my energies to learning everything I could about the LDS faith, and was shocked by what I found. Alternative versions of Joseph Smith's "First Vision" story, shocking statements by church leaders about race and religion, bizarre doctrines taught by early church leaders, especially Brigham Young, temple rituals which remarkably resemble Masonic rites, not to mention the 4,000+ changes to the Book of Mormon - just to name a few.
I was furious! Had I and my entire family really been deceived by a religion scarcely more credible than the Church of Scientology? How could so many people believe these lies? Why didn't most members know these things? How could I be so stupid?
I started exploring different religions - Judaism, Buddhism - even Wicca, remaining an outwardly practicing Mormon but inwardly agnostic. Yet it was Jesus who always held a strange lure. And so, two years after the unexpected collision with Grace, I started attending Christian churches. The United Church of Christ, Lutheran, and United Methodist churches specifically. (I also did the whole Baptist/Non-denominational thing....not my cup of tea.)
Guess what brought me to the doorstep an Episcopal church? Why, that delightfully short-lived series on NBC, The Book of Daniel! I know, it's weird, but there it is. The Lord works in mysterious ways, huh? The Episcopal Church seemed to be the open-minded version of the Catholic church I was looking for. Ancient, apostolic truth, progressive identity. And, the first time I set foot in an Episcopal church, I was (not to get all Pentecostal) moved by the Spirit, completely at peace with the world. I knew this was where God was calling me.
As for Mormonism?
I remained angry for a long time - It felt like righteous anger, and maybe some of it was. Anger can be healthy, even healing, but it can also be destructive. So I've been letting that anger go.
So what do I think about Mormons and the LDS church now?
I don't believe Mormonism and Christianity are the same thing. Perhaps from a secular/dictionary definition they are, but as traditional Christianity defines itself, Mormonism is radically different, and cannot be considered another Christian denomination. The fact of the matter is, the LDS church considers itself the only true Christian church in existence, and is therefore by definition technically opposed to the existence of all other churches claiming to be Christian.
Are individual Mormons Christians?
There are so many good Mormons out there. Who am I to judge whether or not someone is a Christian? There are many whose faith is known to God alone.
Speaking of good Mormons, I'm proud of my mom, who has come a long way. I know this hasn't been easy for her, seeing her son become an "apostate." But she's getting better. We've even prayed Compline together a few times.
You can also read the letters I received from the LDS church: Here and here. No surprises here. To be honest, I was incredibly happy when I received them - freedom, at last.
So in the end, it all worked out. These things usually do.