Tuesday, November 17, 2015

How the LDS Church is different

While out and about seeking new investigators as a missionary, I often heard the question "How is your church different from mine?" As far as I could tell, it was almost always a sincere question. It's also an excellent question. If Mormonism has nothing exceptional to offer then there's probably not a great reason for joining it.

Hearing the question filled me with a mix of joy and anxiety. On the one hand I was thrilled to be given the open door invitation to talk about how awesome the Church is, but on the other hand I knew my major selling points weren't exactly the most impressive.

1. We have a living prophet like Noah and Moses! He tells us all the useful and relevant things God wants us to know for these very times.

Typical responses to this depending on one's religion went something like this: 1) Cool, we have a guy like that too!, 2) We don't need someone like that because we have a book of scripture that's still perfectly relevant or 3) We don't need that sort of thing because we have the Spirit guiding us at all times. At that point you had to then make the case for how much more impressive the LDS prophet was than their figure head, book or ability to listen and understand the will of God via his Holy Spirit. It was never an easy task. I always sought a fine balance of diplomacy and conviction, hoping and praying that the Spirit would fill my mouth with just the right words.

Inevitably discussions would arrive at the point where I have to explain what the prophet has said recently that was so great and so clearly prophetic. That's where all momentum was lost because no LDS prophet since Joseph Smith has done much of anything at all.

2. We have The Book of Mormon (and other new scripture)!

 This comment usually would of course get some people saying the Bible is all you need, but usually people would ask what it said that was so great. At that point I or my companion would share the wonderful tale of Jews settling parts of the Americas in 600 BCE, how they tried killing each other until the resurrected Jesus stopped by to set them straight, at which point they lived happily for 200 years until they eventually decided that killing each other was better. This only ever impressed uneducated people. Everyone else waited patiently until we left them alone.

3. We have the same power and authority held by Jesus Christ himself during his earthly ministry!

This usually got a response similar to "Oh, we've totally got that!" but would also receive challenges like "Great. Go ahead and tell me about the miracles you've performed." In the first case you had to get into the same type of debate mentioned above in number 1. How do you tell someone who believes they have the power of Jesus available to them that they really don't, at least not to the same degree that you do? And how do you prove it? I hadn't performed any miraculous healings, cast devil spirits into swine, fed thousands of people on scraps or kicked thousands of people out of a house of worship for not being reverent enough. All I had to offer were the miracle stories I had grown up with - stories about Joseph Smith, pioneers and the bishop of the brother of the one guy in my ward who maybe healed the child of a family he home taught - and those, I'm telling you, failed to convince. More often than not my miracle stories were met with other miracle stories that sounded just as awesome if not a little bit more grandiose.

4. We know that families can be together forever!

I could never understand how people weren't more impressed by this claim to Mormon exceptionalism. Most people were absolutely unimpressed by this doctrine we hold so dear. I met people who were sincerely confused that we would think our family mattered once we were in heaven. Weren't we all going to be one gigantic family anyway? Other people were annoyed by the idea that they would be stuck with family in heaven. Why should they be happy spending an eternity with people they don't especially care to see now? What's the point of having our earthly family in heaven? What problem does it solve? Will Mom still have meals to cook and dishes to do? Will Dad have to keep the Pearly Gates oiled and our misbehaving hides tanned?

5. We can teach you how to have a direct, personal relationship with God the Father. 

Most religious people we encountered had already heard this from their current religion. Communion with the Divine is an extremely popular and persistent promise of religions across the world. Trying to convince religious people that their previous encounters weren't as personal or frequent or powerful as they were with Mormons was a great way to offend people. Occasionally, however, we would find someone who had been longing to escape the chill of the Universe and make a connection with a loving god they hadn't yet known. These were our moments of elation. They occasionally turned into baptisms. I saw people enthusiastically accept baptism and I LOVED it. It made me feel so good. Unfortunately I saw almost all of those people leave the Church in frustration, the same frustration of others who tried and failed to make the connection as well as those who thought they had succeeded only to find themselves once again cold and alone.

I wondered if God simply didn't have time for his children. I wondered if God was testing how long we could hold our breath underwater. I wondered if God was as good as we say he is. I wondered why God would be so stingy. I wondered why I believed in God at all.

Why believe in this amazing father god if he can't stick with us despite our total loyalty? How is that any better than worshiping an idol? How is my god any better than the those worshiped by people I contacted daily on my mission?

For years I assumed that people couldn't see why Mormonism was so special because they weren't giving it a fair shake. Now I see that Mormonism has nothing different to offer the world. It's the same slop with a different name. I can see no reason why the LDS Church should be considered a "true" church, let alone The One True Church.

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