Mormonism: Once more with feeling!

Written by and copyrighted by Penny Rebel, 2012.

So when I pasted my old “inside report” on my Mormon experiences 7 years ago into this blog I felt like giving it another go from a different angle, cause it had ended rather abruptly and the religion I’d previously studied had caused me deep repulsion (if not revulsion) against religion in general and especially the claims of various faiths to be “the only true one.” Sadly, this had had such a negative impact on me that instead of studying I had literally become an adversary, lol.

So here went nothing. I googled the churches’ website lds.org to scroll around a bit, update myself on the current apostles, revelations, and so forth and ordered the free DVD “Finding Happiness.” I already had a feeling that this DVD would not find its way to me via mail.

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I had gotten off work earlier last Friday and had maybe been home half an hour when the doorbell rang. I hurried down the stairs to meet the two Elders, one from Switzerland, one from the US, halfway.

We talked briefly and I asked whether we could meet up at church after I’d watched the DVD, so I would be “better prepared.” They agreed.

Two hours ago I met them at our local church. I’d never been in there as you know by now. The first impression that hit me was: very American. The décor reminded me of the many churches I’d been lucky to visit in Chicago, Indianapolis, Anderson, Wisconsin and Arizona. The cherry wood, warm colors of the carpet and walls and the neo-classical style paintings made this church or environment seem very welcoming and soothing. I have to say I liked it!

As they were showing me around the church I was starting to ask simple questions. They showed me the relief society (where the women gather and are being taught), the kindergarten, gym/theatrical stage, kitchen and the downstairs room the men are being taught at. Before church service women and men are “separated” and taught among themselves. Later they all come together for the service and are – “of course”, as Elder W. confirmed – sit next to each other.

The chapel itself was “simple”, meaning unadorned. There was no cross like I know from most churches (except Christian Science for example) and a little sort of “booth”. That, I was  told, was where the sacrament was being prepared and shared. The sacrament consists of bread and water. NOT wine, as Mormons aren’t allowed to drink. (I made a mental not to ask if Jesus turned water to wine and there are mentions he drank wine as well, why weren’t Mormons allowed? But I forgot to ask it later on. 😦 I’ll have to remember for next time.) Everyone, even non-Mormons are allowed to receive the sacrament. But, as Elder W. explained it will have less of a meaning as the sacrament is sort of like a renewal of the baptism, a remembrance of the covenant between God and the individual church member. He also said that while children under eight may receive the sacrament if they want to, they aren’t allowed to be baptized until they are eight years old, because then they can choose for themselves. I have doubts whether you are able to independently choose what you WANT when you are eight years old so to speak, but that is just my personal opinion. I did ask  whether it does ever happen that a child refused. Elder W. said that could and does happen indeed and wasn’t a problem either; sometimes the children needed more time and some of them never got baptized and left the church, although the latter didn’t happen much according to him.

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The service is different inasmuch as there is no priest or minister reading from the gospel and then speaking on a certain subject in the Bible. Instead, members of the congregation are being asked to speak on various topics they have two or three weeks time to prepare for. Both women and men alike are allowed to speak, whereas women can not obtain the Aaronic or Melchizedic priesthood.

Downstairs they showed me the family gathering room. Here, people who don’t have a family yet come together to basically “hang out” together. They play games, sing, talk, and so forth. The photographs on the walls taken from such family gatherings all displayed happy, smiling faces and laughing faces. Everyone seems to have a good time during these gatherings. I noticed that there are only VERY young people on the photographs and asked if Mormons got married early on or why there weren’t any ppl beyond 25 on there. Elder W. laughed awkwardly, and confirmed this. I didn’t understand the awkwardness until we talked about this some more and I began understanding that the reason for this wasn’t just “because family is very important in Mormonism”, it’s basically also because like many other Christians Mormons aren’t supposed to have premarital sex and are amongst those churches who take this commandment very seriously.

Elder W. and Elder L. (the quiet Swiss fella) walked me to the men’s gathering room where the baptisms take place also. I have to admit I got a brief shock when they pulled a large curtain aside and revealed what at first sight looked like a serial killer’s basement. (No offence, I’m just stating what the first thing was that came to my mind!) A sort of square swimming pool (basin) tiled in white gaped at me and I couldn’t but take a step back and say, “Oh!” “I know, right?!” Elder W. said excitedly. “Go ahead, you can take a closer look, it’s no problem.” I stared down into the “tank” and the worry must have been very visible on my face. “Any questions?” Elder W. asked gently. I didn’t know how to put it, so I just burst out, “Can you keep your clothes on?” They both started laughing and said that of course you don’t go in naked, you wear a white dress. The white symbolizing the purity of the “new born” Mormon. The submerging symbolized the death of Jesus on the cross and emerging was like Jesus rising from the dead into a new and pure life. “When you are baptized all of your sins are forgiven.” I don’t know why, but whenever I hear religions say that I always think, ‘What about murderers and cheaters and child molesters and rapists and people who have tortured animals?’ I never feel content about this claim…

So after the grande tour we sat down and I started firing my questions at them. I asked the same questions as 7 years ago basically, but in a different way, and this time, I wasn’t being thrown out but we had a quite pleasant and interesting conversation actually. Elder W. told me he liked that I had researched so much before meeting them (of course he didn’t know I’d done this before…) and wasn’t afraid to ask difficult questions. I got very different answers than I did a few years back, ones that didn’t seem as…mmmh… fundamentalist? Mysogynist? Racist? And although I don’t agree with everything I was told I could live with it quite well without having to challenge these beliefs.

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Of course both Elder L. and Elder W. emphasized their answers with reading to me or making me read passages from the Book of Mormon. (In fact, I didn’t see one single Bible in that church.) But I felt they both were more open-minded and willing to at least listen to questions that bordered on doubt.

I wanted to know whether Mormons were allowed to marry non-Mormons. “Because, let’s face it, if the Church of Latter Day Saints is the restored and hence one true church of God – everyone else is going to hell, right?” I asked. They both laughed and said that Mormons don’t believe in that kind of heaven and hell. I raised my eyebrows in surprise, that was one thing I had never heard before. Elder L. (yes, he did talk at some point!) went on to explain that while they believe that after death you can remain in a sort of godless state, which could be interpreted as some kind of “hell” the hell of brimstone and damnation wasn’t part of the “plan of salvation.” I asked whether they were trying to say that even after death it was possible to free yourself from that state/”hell” and that is where they went quiet a little bit. I don’t know if that might have something to do with the secret temple rites of theirs, in which case they wouldn’t be able to talk about it, or if it was something else. I’ll try to get back ot it another time. So to get back to marriage: Elder W. said that personally he would probably not want to marry a non-Mormon because the wants his family sealed to him forever and this can only happen to Mormons. (Short explanation: Mormons believe that families can be sealed together in this life by Mormon priests so they will remain together after death and live on as a family forever) I was told that it wasn’t allowed to frown upon a Mormon marrying a non-Mormon, because they could eventually still have a good influence on the non-believing spouse and possibly even convince her of the true church. But they weren’t allowed to get married in the temple. I asked whether they knew any Mormon/non-Mormon couples but they both just looked at each other wide-eyed and then denied that. So I’m not sure how common that really is. Plus, I’m not sure that the pressure of your spouse trying to “save your soul” wouldn’t be too much for any marriage. Who knows.

Next time I want to ask them if they personally would be friends with non-Mormons, or possible even are already. And whether they also try to convince their friends to take on their faith or if they accept them for who they are.

Then I got to the tricky stuff.

I told Elder W. that when researching the LDS (Latter Day Saints as the Mormons call themselves mostly) I found the FLDS (Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints) and asked whether the two were the same or were related. I saw a pained look cross their faces, and after a second’s silence Elder W. said “Wellll…basically the FLDS split from the true church a while ago. I am not sure, but I think they believe in different apostles. They didn’t want to accept Brigham Young as Joseph Smith’s successor, they think the apostle has to be related to Smith.” I waited patiently, but he said no more. (…) I had never heard about that before, I think Warren Jeffs would have promoted his blood relation to Smith more if that were true, but I might be wrong. I have to research that some more. Instead I smilingly asked, “That’s the only difference? That’s not too much of a difference then if the teachings are the same, right?” They said there were probably some other things different, but they weren’t sure. “So to you, are they Mormons or aren’t they?” I inquired. I saw how uncomfortable I was making them and they were beating around the bush a bit, so for now I stopped getting into it any deeper. Instead I asked, “Oh, is that the church that still has polygamy? I think you guys don’t do that anymore, right?” They seemed relieved and agreed. “So how does this work,” I said. “One of your apostles got a revelation that polygamy be abandoned, right? Do apostles just get “the orders” or does God explain the reasons for changing his laws?” They both showed me the passage (which I didn’t bookmark, arrgh!) in the book of Mormon where God forbade it. The Elders said that polygamy made sense during the ancient times because there was a shortage of men due to wars, etc. God wanted to see the women taken care of, hence men were allowed to marry up to four wives. (Funnily that is the SAME explanation the Muslims gave me, not just at the mosque, but everywhere, except they never abandoned polygamy:…) These days polygamy didn’t make sense anymore as there were enough men. “So if some day there is a shortage of women…God might maybe determine for them to marry several husbands?” I asked seriously curious. “Ummmm,” they laughed. “Who knows. God’s ways are unfathomable, but right now we stick to the law we got.”

“When I checked out your website and generally googled for info on the LDS of course I found pages that were rather skeptical towards Mormonism as well. One accused the Mormons of being or having been racist. It said that Native or Afro Americans or just generally “colored” people weren’t allowed to become priests. Is that true? And since you showed me in the book of Mormon God always gives reasons for changing his laws, what were they in this case?”

Elder W. sat back and said. “To tell you the truth. I’m not completely sure. I will definitely ask around and give you a more detailed answer next time, I promise. Personally, I could imagine it had something to do with the mark of Cain. The dark skin was the mark of Cain, it was a curse. Maybe God saw that after all those years the decendents of Cain had risen beyond their forefather’s sin and that is why God now allows every good man to obtain priesthood.” (At this point I didn’t ask further why or how Native Americans and Africans and Oriental people, who obviously are all or mostly very tan to dark-skinned would be related or connected. But I appreciated his attempt to honestly answer my question. I’m still totally pissed about the whole racism thing having gone on till 1972 and still today in a way by accepting that “dark skin” was a “sign of God’s curse”, but hey, I know trying to change their mind is a lost cause. So why cause myself more drama.)

“What do you tell people who say that there is no archeological proof for there having been horses in the US during the time it is stated in Alma for example? There are people who say that the conquistadors brought them over, that was way later as far as I know…?”

Elder L. stepped in at this point. He said that although there might not be archeological or historical proof right now it didn’t mean there would be some at some point. The most important thing to remember he told me was that GOD doesn’t lie. And if we asked God if the Book of Mormon was the truth he would send to us the answer through the holy ghost.

“How will I receive this answer, how will I know?” I inquired. “You will feel it. I know some people expect or even have visions. Some just feel it in their heart, some hear the answer. It’s individual.” Elder W. jumped in. “If you have a piece of cake. And it is delicious and fluffy…”

“I’d want more” I burst out at which point the two Elders start laughing again and I had to join in, blushing. “Yes, yes, of course. But if you saw the rest of the cake, would you think it was just as good or would you assume that the rest might not taste as well?”

“I’m a very careful person, I’d consider that the first piece might have been meant to lure me into having the rest of the cake which might be poisoned.”

Okay. They didn’t expect that answer. But the shock on their faces disappeared quickly and gave way to more laughter. “That is very wise of you – to be careful,” Elder W. chuckled, “but I guess I didn’t explain well enough. If you KNEW that the cake was made of the same batter with the same ingredients, would you want more?”

“Of course,” I said, not really sure where he was coming from with this yet. “Great. So look at it this way. You don’t have to read the whole book of Mormon, you don’t have to know the whole history of the church, even I don’t and I was raised Mormon. If you read one chapter and it made you feel good and you prayed to God to tell you if it was the truth…wouldn’t you want more…?”

Ahhhhh. Now I see what he wants me to say.

“Become Mormon?” I swallow and the audible gulp sounds like “Mhm” rather than “Ummmm”.

“Great!” Elder W. cries out happily as my eyes widen in shock. I didn’t mean that! But of course I couldn’t well tell them that.

The conversation continued to the process of being baptized. Only a Melchizedic priest is allowed to baptize you and this only after you’ve had a “baptism interview” (?!) during which you are asked if you acknowledge the salvation plan of God, that Jesus Christ is the savior of the earth and that Joseph Smith saw God and Jesus Christ on the clearing and received the Book of Mormon by the angel Moroni. You don’t have to know the whole book of Mormon or church history yet I was told.

“But when you’re baptized into this new life then you will have to have cut all addictions like caffeine, alcohol, pop, tea or cigarettes, right?” I ask. “We can drink pop, it’s not explicitly forbidden. It’s not good for you, sure, but every once in a while it’s alright to have, we’re not about frugality, just a balanced life. But we do believe that smoking and drinking are bad for your health and as far as I have read black tea and coffee are as well. The sugar in the pop can be mildly stimulating I guess, but not as much as the coffee and tea, so we try to stay away from that.” (At this point I’m asking myself what kind of Mormons I had met up with seven years prior to that! They were so very different (clueless, or… not instructed well enough??) from these two and even told me very different things about Mormonism than Elder W. and L. Anyways.) “So…if you’re Mormon and you had an addiction to nicotine before converting and then you relapse…you get kicked out?” I ask shyly. I suddenly feel very bad about still sometimes smoking. And sometimes smoking way too much. 😦

“Nono,” Elder W. laughs, “you wouldn’t be judged here. But we would try to help you to quit. We have a program here. It works very well. After one week you are free from your addictions.” While my first inner response is skepticism there is a tiny part inside of me that is curious as well and…yes. Hopeful. I decide to be me for a while.

“I sometimes smoke.” I say. “And I don’t like it to be honest. But I find it hard to stop. At some point I always start again. I really would like to quit.”

“We would love to help you with that if you are really interested.” Elder W. says. “We can instruct you and if you follow through on everything we say it will be no problem.” I still doubt/ed that but I actually would love to try this, so I agreed.

Especially since this is the first religion I know of that has sort of a “detoxification program” except Scientology, which has Narconon. A program where your current addictions are replaced by an addiction to Scientology, i.e. where you’re being brainwashed.

I know I asked many other questions, but they were either a little too irrelevant for this blog or I forgot them. Honestly, religious meetings are always very straining for me, as much as they are awesome as well.

So if I remember anything else I’ll edit this blog.

So basically that was it. I asked whether I could come to service next Sunday and of course they agreed. I hope I don’t have to wear their magical underwear if I just want to attend service, but heck, life is short and then youdie, so even if, should be fun(ny) enough!

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P.S.:

Things I want to ask next time:

*Do you believe that the world is 6,000 years old or do you believe in evolution/dinosaurs, etc.? How do you explain the excavations or dinosaur skeletons (in case they don’t believe in dinosaurs/evolution)?

*How do you learn the languages of the countries you are designated to so quickly/well?

*What do you say to ppl who say “Since you baptize me after death anyways I don’t need to join now, I can just sin and have fun and still go to heaven!”?

*Does God live on a planet called Kolob and are there other Gods?

*Is the devil real or is it just a metaphor like the “hell” or rather non-hell you believe in?

 

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