My experience with the Latter Day Saints (Mormons)

Copyrighted by Penny Rebel, 2005.

It was a mild cloudy September afternoon. My friend and fellow trainee from the young adult library and I were walking towards the train station from work, chatting and laughing.
We turned around a corner and there I saw them. Well dressed young men, wearing suits and shiny silver name tags and girls in long dresses, buttoned up to their neck, their long hair in buns. Their name tags said „Sister (name)“ and the guys‘ said „Elder (name)“. They were Latter Day Saints, better known as „Mormons“ in Germany.
They were on my list of religions to explore – of course – and when Maike saw me stop in the middle of my sentence and excitedly clap my hands, she sighed, „Go on. I know you want to meet them.“ It is fascinating how I can suddenly overcome my usual shyness when I have found a new study object. I approached „Elder Christensen“ and before he got to open his mouth to try and save me, said, „Hello, I am Erin. And I am going to need a Book of Mormon along with some study material. Oh, and while you’re at it, the address of your church at Wartenau.“ He goggled at me like I was a creature from a different planet. Then broadly smiled, gathering some info material, while saying. „Well, it looks like you know the true religion of God already.“
„Ohhhh,“ breathed I, „you have no idea,“ fully meaning it. But I could see he didn’t detect the apparent irony in that statement.
He told me he had been a missionary in Germany for 16 months already and was surprised when I tell him I hope he will get home safely in two months. Mormons train to become missionaries overseas directly after high school (and often before college) and remain in the country they’re designated to for 18 months. I’ve always admired how fast they learn the language of the place they’re being „shipped off to.“ I’ve met Mormons in Stockholm, Copenhagen and Hamburg and they all mastered the languages that they hadn’t studied for more than half a year before leaving the US.
He asked me what else I know about „the religion of God“ and as usual I cringe inside, but smile politely, answering what I know of the particular religion that claims to be the one and only. Of course I held back. It would have been unwise to start out a religious science study project saying something like, „Well, I know you guys believe that God lives on a planet called Kolob and you have a book you claim is the second half of the Bible, full of historical errors. (*I’ll get to that later.) Your prophet Joseph Smith’s brother decided to become a Freemason (Freimaurer) and it is quite apparent that your secret temple rites are EXACTLY like the Freemasonic ones. Coincidence?! Who knows. ImageYour church prohibited African Americans or generally „colored“ people as you call them to become ministers till 1972 as the book of Mormon states that they are inferior to the white race.  Your church abandoned poligamy, although never officially, but the fundementalist group that split from the official church still engages in it as well as underage marriage. We are talking 13-year olds being sold to 50-year olds. (google Warren Jeffs and his FLDS for further information.)“
Yes, I remain skeptic about what I know of Mormonism and have trouble concealing it, as my main issue is their obvious racism. I don’t care if people choose to believe gummibears can save their soul, but racism is something that just makes me shut down completely. But of course I know there is no place for prejudice in religious science. In theory at least. I know my job is to dive in and become one of them. For a while. My job is to let go of everything I knew  or only thought I knew before and understand the mindset of people who believe that they hold THE truth in their hands – from within.
What I knew of Mormonism was scarce, admittedly.
Joseph Smith, born on December 23rd 1805 (As a Capricorn ImageI’m always ashamed when Capricorns publicly turn insane…) came from a poor family, who moved to wherever his Dad would find work. It was a time of spiritual upheaval. Presbyterians, Methodists, Baptists and Christian Scientists were all starting to expand and young Joseph was confused as to what the „real church“ actually was. According to his biography Joseph Smith went into the woods near his house to pray to God which church to join. He was 15 at the time. He then was visited by two „light figures“ – God and Jesus. They told him that none of the Christian religions were right and that Joseph Smith was supposed to guide mankind to the true religion. Three years later an angel called „Moroni“ (no pun intended) came to Smith and told him to dig up a few golden tablets that had been written by American prophets hundreds of years ago. The angel guided Smith to the hill they were supposed to be buried under, but he wasn’t allowed to keep them or show them to anyone else. The prophecies written on those tablets are found in the book he wrote down after the angelic experience, the „Book of Mormon“.
There are further strange and magical things regarding the founding of the Church of Latter Day Saints. Smith happened to meet a man who was in possession of three Egyptian mummies. Inside the mummies‘ bandages he had found scrolls. Smith was eager to purchase them. He translated them and proclaimed that these were lost prophecies of Abraham. He published the translations together with photographs of the original scrolls. Several Egyptologists agreed on Smith’s „translation“ being complete humbug. There was no word of Abraham, instead of Osiris and an ancient unnamed Goddess as the papyri were indeed excerpts of the Egyptian „Book of the Dead.“
More strife, confusion, tumult and fraud followed. And after having broken into a publishing house who’d „defamated“ the Church of Latter Day Saints Smith was shot during a riot.
Brigham Young, who was also responsible for the discrimination and racism towards African Americans in the church of Latter Day Saints – became his successor.

Romney

Latter Day Saints have several appointed apostles who are said to be in direct contact with God. He speaks to and through them and they pass on his holy laws to the Mormon community. God seems to change his mind a lot, because there are frequent changes and new laws passed down. Let me get back to the racist issue within the Church of Latter Day Saints in this regard:
Until the 1970s the apostles were at one with the „holy law of God“ that „negros“ (I’m simply quoting the term here) were not qualified to serve as priests. They were allowed to join the church as members but were looked down upon out of the reasons stated above. Mormon apostle Bruce McConkie wrote in his book „MORMON DOCTRINE“ in 1966 that „…negros are denied priesthood in this life (!) and can under no (!) circumstances represent God and his will on earth. The gospel and its message of salvation aren’t meant for them. This is God’s eternal law of justice…“ (p. 527 ff)
And then! In 1976 the Salt lake City Tribune reported that a member of the church ordained a „black“ priest. He was excommunicated ten days later.
There was a national uproar following the excoummunications, many Mormons left the church, numbers kept dwindling over the next two years. Until. Until one fine morning in 1978 the 12th mormon president issued a letter to his brothers in the faith (no, there was no talk of the sisters…) saying that since he and the other apostles had been „painfully aware“ of the unhappiness of „colored brothers“ prohibited to become priests they had locked themselves in to implore God for several days that he may revoke this law. Apparently God reconsidered and remembered that he had indeed created the „blacks“ as well as the „whites“ (way to go, God!…). Many Mormons stated that these news had been as shocking as the word of president Kennedy’s death. Go figure.

When I asked around amongst my acquaintances, friends and family what they knew about Mormonism, the first thing they mentioned was their incessant genealogical research and their gargantuous archive at their main church in Salt Lake City. Upon my asking none of them knew why genealogy was so important to Mormons. It is in fact only because that they collect or try to collect the date of EVERYONE who EVER lived, because they baptize them after death.  Why? So that they will not go to hell once Armageddon comes.

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Mormonism is often accused of not being Christian. Of course, if we define Christianity by what is in the Bible, the old testament Bible itself isn’t Christian, but Osiric (which would then fit fine with Smith’s Egyptian papyri.) and the new testament and Yeshua’s (Jesus) message one of gnosis if anything. But that is something to be illustrated in a different essay maybe.

Anyway. What can be said without question is that Mormonism isn’t a monotheist religion. When Smith published the Book of Mormon in 1830 his understanding of God/religion was still very Biblical/monotheist. God is „spirit“ (> Alma 11:26 ff) and the only one/spirit there is.
In his issued Book of Moses, Smith reports of how God creates the universe, using the term „I“ for God.
However, in his later issued Book of Abraham he suddenly speaks of several Gods creating the universe! Nowadays (google forums and Mormon-based/issued webpages on their religion) Mormons believe that the various Gods differ from THE God only by being inferior to him, less powerful and hence less important. They are on a different „level of evolution.“ (!?)

The second rather „un-Christian“ belief is that according to Smith God is an exalted human being. He publicly proclaimed this during a speech he held on April 7, 1844 in Illinois.
Thought: If God has a physical body in Mormonism then Mary cheated on Joseph with God in the flesh and there is no virgin birth. Of course the virgin birth is very Catholic in essence as amongst other things it was invented to prove that Jesus was without „original sin.“
Conclusion: God is not eternal in the Judeo-Christian sense – perfect, omnicient, omnipotent, etc. He is also just another being, albeit higher developed than humans are at this point. That was also supposed to explain the constant change of „holy laws“ passed on by the apostles. Problem: These laws are said to be passed on when the believers were „ready“ for change. BUT let us remember the disbelief, shock and reluctance that Latter Day Saints received the revelation of „negro priests“ with. „Ready“????? Hmmm…

buddy-jesus making fun of mormons

Mormons, much like for example Christian Scientists (and no, this is NOT Scientology, you Philistines!) say that they do not believe in the trinity, yet strangely they also make a distinction between „Holy Ghost“ as a person of the „package“ of God, son and holy ghost (=trinity?!) while the „Holy Spirit“ is the force/power emanating from all of them.

Mormons believe in procreation taking place IN heaven. These children are called spirit-children. They can progress to godhead.

If humans obey the laws of God in this life they can become Gods in the next life. “If we prove faithful to the Lord, we will live in the highest degree of the celestial kingdom of heaven. We will become exalted, just like our Heavenly Father…” “These are some of the blessings given to exalted people… 2. They will become gods.”
(Gospel Principles, 1997. Chapter 47 “Exaltation.”

Of course there are several other contradictions, such as that according to the book Alma (in the Book of Mormon) Jesus was born in Jerusalem (!) not Bethlehem.

Of course, the above are only tiny fragments of the religion of Latter Day Saints. To comprehend it fully it would be best not to rely on these amateurish scribblings, but to read the Book of Mormon/Abraham as well as several non-Mormon books on the church and faith as well.

But all I told Elder Christensen was a small and uncriticizing biography about Joseph Smith; he was impressed and asked if I would care for a loose get-together with a few other Latter Day Saints our age that to discuss the Bible and the Book of Mormon with. We agreed to meet up on Saturday, and he asked if it would be fine to meet up in the late afternoon since he was helping out a friend in V~. „In that case,“ I laughed in surprise, „you and your friends are invited to come to my place, I live in V~.“ He was radiant with joy. „See?!“ Elder Christensen exclaimed, „This is God working his miracles! Oh, I’m telling you I feel in my heart that this is a sign that we are supposed to pry you away from Satan!“  Sure. Okay.
At home I kept going back and forth between the kitchen and my room, glancing through the open living-room door. The tenth time I did this, my pappa calls, „What did you do?“
I tip-toed into the living-room, deciding to come clean.
„I met some Mormoms today!“
„Oh my God.“ My Dad says. „The Mormons now. Weren’t you just Jewish a few weeks ago?“
I shook my head impatiently. „That was two years ago. So um, can they come over this Saturday for tea?“
My father stared and sighed deeply. The sigh of a man who has known defeat many, many times.
„Please tell me this is not going to be like the time the Hare Krishnas danced out in our garden for all the neighbors to see…?“
„Um.“ I looked away nervously. „I think we’re just supposed to study the Book of Mormon.“ I huffed avoidantly. Pappa agreed and so I walk back to my room to study the Book of Mormon along with four other books on Mormonism I got from the library. A perfect and very common evening .

It was a sunny Saturday afternoon. I was wearing my huge MayheM shirt (for all of you who are unfamilar with Satanic Black Metal – I guess now you get the idea…) The doorbell rung at exactly 5 PM. I stormed to the door and found myself face to face with three young Elders (is that a contradction in terms? Hmmm…) and two sisters. After a lot of avid hand-shaking and introductions I guided the little herd into the living-room. Pappa was watching „The literary Quartet“, but dutifully got up to greet them. As I beckoned the five towards the patio Elder Christensen turned around to whisper to me, „Maybe your Dad would like to join us?“ It sounded hopeful. The compassion of a man who sees nothing but lost souls, hellfire and eternal damnation amongst non-Mormons. „My Dad is good with the old Germanic Gods,“ I smile confidently, and Elder Christensen looked at me as though I’d just offered him some heroine. I was the only one laughing.
„Tea?“ I asked politely, gesturing to the huge pot on the garden table. Silence.
„We’re not allowed to drink tea. Or coffee. Or pop.“ One girl volunteered. Ah. I hadn’t read that anywhere yet.

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„Oh, didn’t know that.“ I mumbled as I was stuffing in a piece of Swedish snuff into my mouth.
More silence.
The Latter Day Saints each got out their Books of Mormon. No Bible, I noticed.
„So.“ Elder Christensen ceremoniously says, straightening up in his chair. Clearly, he is the „leader“ of this little group. „We would like to start this meeting out by saying a prayer if you don’t mind.“ Like on command, everyone bows their heads. I bow mine as well. Elder Christensen’s voice was full of passion when he asked God for guidance and blessings for this get-together. After a few minutes his voice became even louder, the prayer turning into a kind of sermon. He stroke his fist into the other hand, gesturing, opening his arms, wrapping them around them, his eyes half closed as if in rapture. I involuntarily had to think of the Shakers and Quakers. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed my Dad leaning forward in his armchair, eyebrows raised, face pale. He nodded at me through the open terrace door as if to ask „Is he okay?“ I grinned and he leaned back to watch his show again.
„Okay.“ I announced, ready to take matters back into my hands. My turf. My rules. My meeting.
„So I know you’ve come here to read the Book of Mormon with me, but I do have a couple of questions if you don’t mind.“
I acknowledge my standard set of questions is very…basic, boring if you like. At first meetings I don’t usually dive into church or religious history, passages from scriptures to be analyzed or contradicted. I ask what most people ask themselves every day. Why are we here, why are there so many religions, how do you know that your religion is the only true one. What happens to good people who aren’t members of your religion after death, why does God allow evil, sickness, violence, rape, death. In this case of course – I added one question. Why weren’t they allowed to drink tea? I assume I would get a similar answer I got from the Hare Krishnas about the body being a temple of God that was meant to be kept pure and clean of stimulating substances. „But you are allowed to eat, right?“ I couldn’t help but ask. „Of course, why wouldn’t we?“ one girl asks. „Because food can be very stimulating, especially after a long day at work. It’s hot out today, right? Ever notice that on a day like that you couldn’t stop thinking about a nice fruit salad? It’s your body craving vitamins and fluids. And ever notice that after you had your delicious fruit salad you feel like your endorphines are dancing?“ The Mormon group chuckles insecurely, they’re still not sure what this is all about. „Well, that is a kind of stimulating to your body, right? It’s reviving. For someone with low blood-pressure a cup of coffee or tea in the morning can do the same a fruit salad can do for you on a hot late summer’s day.“
Silence.
I was disappointed. Somehow I would have expected them to be better prepared. I often noticed how trivial every-day questions seem to unsettle believers of whatever faith. The whole get-together seemed very chaotic, my questions and thoughts were met with more silence and hectic turning of the pages of the Book of Mormon. It must be hard when you can’t answer for yourself, always to be afraid you might say something that might be contradicting to your beliefs accidentally. At 7 PM, I decided to break it off.
Elder Christensen asked me if I would care for joining the Sunday service tomorrow. „Ohhh, I’d LOVE to“ I lied, „but I have to help an elderly neighbor with her gardening.“ The Latter Day Saints seemed delighted. „We can help! It’s no problem. That is what we do! We help people!“ I somehow managed to convince them it was best I tended to my friend’s garden by myself, but I still got an invitation to an informative meeting at the house of another Elder. As surprised as I was after this awkward encounter, I still agreed.
Elder Christensen gave me the address and I didn’t manage to hide my surprise. This was not just the rich side of town, this was the millionaires‘ side of town.

poderes-unidos-kolob_01
(depiction of the planet Kolob, the planet wich the Mormon God inhabits. Don’t fret, my dears, if you convert you will all get your very own kick-ass planet after death and become a God or Goddess yourself!)

It was hot out on the day I left for the meeting. My pappa kissed me goodbye after I gave him the names of the people present, the telephone number and street address of both the house the meeting is held at and the actual church. This is our agreement regarding my religious science studies that have been going on for 9 years now. Looking over the contact info he called after me, „Don’t let them baptize you, I’d hate to lose a daughter to Moroni!“
As I was making my way to the house I noticed two men in suits both wearing name tags. I speeded up and called to them in English and after a quick glance at their name tags greeted them with „Elder Stewart“ and „Elder Pozniak“. They asked me how long I’d been in Germany. I was confused. „Quite a while now?“ I laughed, totally not getting it. „I know what you mean,“ one of the boys said. „It feels longer being here than I actually am. It’s a tough country.“ I was still confused. „Did you convince anyone of the true religion yet?“ he asked me. Ohhhhhh. It was only then I realized what they were thinking. I couldn’t help but burst into laughter. „I’m not a missionary,“ I giggled, „I’m a guest, see, I’m not even wearing a name tag!“ I pointed at my chest. They blushed and apologized for having „insulted“ my country. „You look so…Mormon!“ one of the Elders, a scrawny Afro-American teenage boy, exclaims. Of course I do. I got a cheap polyester dress with tiny flowers online, one of the ones I’d seen the „sisters“ wear. If I was doing this I was doing this right.
The house the meeting was held at was not a house. It was not even a mansion. It was a castle. And I didn’t like it. I don’t know where I got this strong (strange?) sense of frugality from, but lavishness has always brought out rebellion in me. When I look at the abundant churches of the Catholics, filled with gold and glitter I can’t but feel ashamed for them. I always wish I could tear down the golden crucifixes, sell them and feed the poor, abused and hungry. Looking at this palace brought out the same kind of feelings in me.
The Walkers were a „typical“ American family. (I don’t mean to promote stereotypes, but I think that most of us agree that the word „mentality“ is not just a word shell.) Mrs. or „Sister“ Walker was an extremely motherly, warm and kind woman with big poofy hair and bright intelligent eyes. Mr. or „Elder“ Walker worked  for the church. He had soft, slim, clean hands like a doctor. I caught him glimpsing at his wife while he was shaking my hand. He was taller than her, but he was „looking up“ to her, his head slightly bowed. Clearly, Mrs. Walker was the „man of the house“. The children, all in their late teens, were extremely well-behaved, polite and eager to make us guests feel at home. So not your typical teenagers all in all. The dining room table was almost collapsing under the tons of food and we were encouraged to sit down and „dig in.“ As the others were talking I once more took the time to look around me. Family pictures. Pictures of the current apostles. A picture of Joseph Smith. No crucifixes, no Jesus, no Bible anywhere. Just a shelf packed with books on Mormonism.
I sat down next to elder Walker. I didn’t come for food after all. I thanked him for having me over and explained my interest in the religion. He seemed delighted and began telling me about the advantages of being „saved“ immediately.
After dinner and polite small talk we were guided to the living room to watch a movie on Joseph Smith, the founding of the church and its progression today. I was bored as I was not learning anything new and I noticed my reluctance growing. I looked around and saw the pricy furniture, the 30×30 inch silver frames, the Villeroy and Bosch vases…I cocked my head to read the label better – Mrs. Walker’s shoes were Prada.
I hadn’t wanted this to end too early… ‚You don’t know how much they might donate to charity. All the good they might be doing. Prejudice is the only sin you believe in, remember?‘ I tried to remind myself, but it was too late. I knew how this was going to end that night.
After the movie was over Elder Walker turned back on the lights, smiling welcomingly, opening his arms as if to hug us all and asked if we had any questions.
„Yeah I got a couple, if you don’t mind“ I heard myself say, cringing at the sound of my own voice.
Oh Erin. Really? Do you always have to fight for what you deem justice like the Erinnyas? Why did your pappa call you Erin again? Right…
„So why are the female members of the Church of Latter Day Saints called „sisters“ while the men are called „elders“?
I saw the corner of elder Walker’s mouth twitch slightly, but he replied calmly and in all earnesty.
„Because God has bestowed men with other talents and abilities than women. God created man first, and woman as his companion.“
Now I’ve had enough.
„So the Church of Latter Day Saints says that archeology and history prove the Book of Mormon right, did I understand that correctly?“
„Absolutely!“ Elder Walker’s eyes glowed excitedly.
I leaned back in my armchair. I thought I could enjoy the comfiness of the huge, puffy American furniture just a while longer before the inevitable.
„So… What is your explanation for the mention of metals – coins, weapons and buildings that did evidentially NOT exist until at least 900 AD? Because until the conquistadors arrived all that was used were stone weapons.
Also I noticed the mention of chariots, but there were no wheeled vehicles at that time either.
I also wonder how the growing of crops like wheat and barley could have happened without plows or specialized farming techniques absolutely unknown during the times described in the Book of Mormon?
And while I’m at it, one final question – how did donkeys, horses, pigs and elephants get to the American continent before the conquistadors?“
Elder Walker’s smile disappeared as though someone had switched it off. His wife made an offended little sound, the guests didn’t know what had hit them, they were looking back and forth between me and the Walkers.
„Dear girl,“ Elder Walker says, „there are many things archeology hasn’t been able to prove yet. But that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.“
„Like that elephants lived in America a few thousand years ago.“ I stated, grinning from ear to ear.
(Edit 2012: I hated myself for being the devil’s advocate, but a few years back the extremism of certain religions concerning the „womens‘ role“ and the various „races“ was something I thought I could fight by using reason and logica as my weapons. Little did I know how wrong I was…)
„Ohhhhhhh! Ohhhhh!“ Mrs. – or sister – Walker then grunted, raising her finger in the air. „You are an infiltrator! You are possessed by the spirit of doubt which is the devil’s spirit!“

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I raise more and more questions, „desecrating“ their holy temple rites by explaining the ritual to the other guests, and of course the one question  causing everyone to jump up from the furniture, point at me and start raising their voices is the one concerning the Mormon racism. „African Americans weren’t allowed to become priests?!“ the dark-skinned kid asked wide-eyed. „It wasn’t LIKE that!“ Elder Walker says determinedly, but then helplessness overwhelms him. „The sin!….was too big!“ The Afro-American kid still stared in disbelief.

It was dark outside. There were hardly any street lamps. I stumbled towards the train station, calling my pappa from my cell phone.
„Everything in order?“ he asked.
„Always. I got kicked out.“ I laughed.
„Thank God!“ he exclaims. „What are you going to be next? Hindu?!“
„I think….“ I paused. „I’m just gonna be me for a while…“

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