I am assuming many reading this blog are familiar with the LDS Church, but for those of you who aren't familiar, I will give a rundown.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has its roots in New York. A young man in 1830 named Joseph Smith Jr. founded a new religion called the Church of Christ. He claimed that he had received revelations from God to restore the primitive Christian Church that Jesus had founded but had been corrupted over the years by the teachings and ways of mankind. Over the next decade the Mormons, as they came to be called, were pushed from New York to Ohio, Missouri, and finally to Illinois.
While in Illinois, a newspaper called the Nauvoo Expositor published unflattering things about Joseph Smith. Joseph Smith had the newspaper shut down and destroyed. Joseph Smith was arrested for this and while in prison he was assassinated.
After the death of Joseph Smith, a large number of the Mormons followed a man they believed to be the successor to Joseph Smith, a man named Brigham Young, to the Salt Lake Valley where they established a territory called Deseret which later became the State of Utah.
Since then, the Church has grown to be a worldwide church boasting nearly 15 million members. The Church is well known in the world for its widespread missionary campaign, it's history with polygamy (more on that later), and being the faith of 2012 presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
Similarities between the LDS Church and Mainstream Christianity:
- They believe Jesus Christ was the Messiah and atoned for mankind's sins.
- They believe in the Old and New Testaments as inspired scripture for the teaching and betterment of mankind. Mormons use the King James Bible only.
- They practice baptism which is done by full immersion in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
- They believe in the inevitable Second Coming of Jesus.
- They hold weekly meetings on Sunday in simple buildings called meeting houses which are open to the public.
- They practice a form of communion called the Sacrament. They don't believe in any literal presence of Jesus in the Sacrament, but rather it is a symbol of remembering his death and resurrection, much like Baptists. For the Sacrament, Mormons typically use sliced, white bread and water.
- They hold to a strict moral code like many Christians. This includes, no sex before marriage, no pornography, no masturbation, abstaining from alcohol and drugs, not using profanity, and not getting tattoos or body piercings.
- Mormons have a very strong emphasis on family and family values. Like many Christians, the family is placed at the heart of their faith.
Differences between the LDS Church and Mainstream Christianity:
- Mormons do not believe in the Trinity, one God in three persons, but instead believe the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are three separate and distinct beings each being gods themselves.
- God has a body of flesh and bone.
- In addition to the Bible, Mormons also have three additional books they consider scripture
- The Book of Mormon. This is the book Joseph Smith claimed to have translated from golden plates he found on a hillside. This book is said to be a record of ancient Jews living in America in ancient times who are the ancestors of Native Americans today. This book contains many teachings of the LDS Church and has what they believe is a record of Jesus visiting the Americas after his resurrection.
- The Doctrine and Covenants. This book consists of records of the early days of the Mormon Church written by Joseph Smith or other key figures of the early Mormon movement. The majority of Church doctrines can be found in this book.
- The Pearl of Great Price. This book contains several additional writing of Joseph Smith.
- The Celestial Kingdom, a kingdom ruled by the Father and filled with infinite glory
- The Telestial Kingdom, a kingdom ruled by the Son and filled also with glory, but diminished from that of the first kingdom.
- The Terrestrial Kingdom, a kingdom ruled by the Holy Ghost and filled with glory, but diminished from that of the first two kingdoms.
- Outer Darkness, a realm of eternal torment and pain reserved for the Devil and his angels, and those who denied the Holy Ghost. It's nearly impossible for living people to obtain this fate according to Mormon teachings.
- Baptisms for the dead. Mormons practice proxy baptisms for those who died without being baptized into the Church. Mormons believe that those who have died can accept this baptism and change the fate of their souls in the afterlife.
- The Endowment Ceremony. In this ceremony, Mormons believe they are given special instruction and endowed with special blessings and covenants with God. It is considered one of the most sacred rites on Earth and necessary for the highest degree of glory.
- Temple marriage or Sealing. It is believed that only marriages performed in the temple are eternal. Couples who are worthy are married in a special ceremony in the temple for this life and all eternity.
I am going to a special service held every month called Fast and Testimony Meeting. This is like a normal weekly meeting with the Sacrament, but instead of talks, members get up and bear their testimony of the Church, declaring publicly that they know it is true and explaining why or giving a story that reinforced their testimony. The 'fast' portion comes from the fact that on the first Sunday of the month, Mormons are supposed to fast from the night before until dinner time Sunday evening and give the money they would have spent on food to the Church for those in need.
I have to now admit that I left the Church in my mind when I was 17 and publicly left when I was 18. So, to reveal my age, this May will be the 10 year anniversary of me leaving the Church publicly. In my 10 years outside the Church, I have only entered an LDS church three times, once for my sister's baptism, once for my nephew's baby blessing, and once for my friend's wedding. Aside from that, I've avoided going because I have a lot of emotional baggage with the Church. Being around all things Mormon actually stirs up a lot of unresolved issues that I have with the Church. It brings up years where I felt I was systematically lied to from the highest levels; years of shame and guilt that they made me feel; all the times I cried to God for help or to be someone else, but he never came; all the times I asked questions and was turned away; all the feelings that I was a hypocrite and a monster; and ultimately, the feelings of betrayal that I experienced by people who were very close to me when I left.
I am going to try as hard as I can to remain objective in this week's blog. I am going to treat this service like any other service I go to and keep my own personal feelings out of it. The same rules that applied to other churches apply to this one. I will not make a scene, and I will be fair and simply report on my experience in this blog. This also means that I will not cater to my Mormon friends and family and just give them a good rating so that I don't step on toes. This service is to be just like any other one. Therefore the good, the bad, and the ugly of the service are all equally fair game, though I will not let my own bias get in the way.
The place I have chosen to attend should give me one of the most beautiful experiences I could have in a Mormon service. We are going to go to the Joseph Smith Memorial Building, which is in Temple Square, the epicenter of the Church. I'm looking forward to seeing what it's like there, and hopefully this experience is a pleasant one for me.
Until I talk to you next, peace be with you.