Why I am still a member of the LDS Church
As a youth, I felt virtually ignored by the leaders of my large family ward in Seattle. There were three “active” boys my age who lived the standards and a few occasional attendees who did not. I tried hard to serve well in the Aaronic Priesthood. Those were the days before the block. As a young teacher, I would frequently walk the mile to church on Sunday evening to be there in time to prepare the Sacrament. I felt good about what I was doing.
Around the age of 16 I became quite a bit more skeptical about the church specifically and religion generally. I read voraciously, mostly books about natural science and psychology, but including Freud, Jung and Bertrand Russell’s “History of Western Philosophy”. I began to feel that if there was a God, He had ignored me and probably didn’t like me. This was because the LDS Church teaches that God is a personal being who communicates with people directly through subtle promptings and even vivid personal revelation. I lacked any such experience that I could conclusively attribute to God. Despite doubts, I never considered myself an atheist. I was a patient skeptic.
I was also led to believe that the ward leaders were inspired, and called people to positions in the ward as they received revelation from God. There are opportunities for boys to serve in Aaronic Priesthood presidencies. The Deacon and Teacher quorums have a President, two counselors and a secretary. The Bishop is President of the Priests Quorum but may have two counselors and a secretary. I had not been called to anything, despite there being only two other active young men my age (each priesthood office covers two years, so boys younger or older than I were called instead). I am not complaining about not having to go to extra meetings. It was simply evidence to my young mind that in God’s eyes I was irrelevant. I also thought it odd that boys who used drugs and were sexually active were called to positions of leadership while I was not, but consistant with my easy-going nature, I didn't care much one way or the other.
At seventeen I attended BYU and was assigned to a student branch. The Branch President was a professor in the Mathematics Department. It was there that I received my first calling – as the Branch music leader and choir director. I was asked to choose a choir president. I held a vote of choir members and a young lady was elected to the position of choir president. I had no idea that I had violated sacred church protocol. I was supposed to have known that I was to give the Branch President a name and if he wanted to, he would extend the call. I had usurped his authority and his wrath was heaped unsparingly on my young head. I have known plenty of jerks, and now I knew another one. No big deal.
Later I applied to serve a mission and was sent to South Africa. I loved my mission. I didn’t look like the ideal missionary - I had a difficult time shaving because of severe folliculitis, and my hair has always been unruly. I had many faults, but I gave it my best effort. On my mission I learned a lot about the human frailties of church leaders and members, myself included. I was prone to pride, and frequently exceeded the monthly allocation of miles on my car (it was a very large area!).
I refused to attend the Port Elizabeth Branch for a time because the branch was opposed to missionaries in general and me specifically. We were criticized from the pulpit because we had recently baptized an elderly lady and were teaching a gentleman with a young son. This gentleman’s foot was run over by a bus and he needed a crutch to walk. In Sacrament meeting, the Branch President chastised us for bringing him “old ladies and cripples” instead of young families. I was hurt, because I had earlier brought them a wonderful couple with three beautiful teenage daughters. This family was committed to baptism and were only a week away from baptism. One week in a Relief Society meeting the sisters spouted false and poisonous doctrines which this sweet investigator recognized as blatantly false. I tried, through her closed door and an abundance of tears, to explain that those were the irresponsible opinions of imperfect people and not what the church taught. She ordered me to never return. Years later I read in the Church News that the President of that Branch had been called to serve as an Area Authority. Go figure.
After my mission I went to BYU, got married and bought a house in Pleasant Grove, Utah. I had a hard time in Pleasant Grove. The Bishop of the ward was an ex-Navy career enlisted man. This Bishop felt that no member of the ward was allowed to have an opinion that was contrary to his opinion – and he had some strange ones. The dutiful members reported to the Bishop whenever I said anything that might be contrary to the established set of assumptions, including my citations of statements from the First Presidency. I was frequently called to his office and informed that I was not allowed to comment on some subject or another.
I was called to teach the 14 year old’s Sunday school class. The former teacher was a “by the book” highway patrol officer. Out of a class of 12, only one girl actually came to class. The rest filtered off to other classes or hid outside. After just a few weeks, I had all the kids back into class, plus I was drawing a few from other classes. I tried to make the classes relevant to the kids and the problems they faced in their young lives. I was released for not following the lesson manual closely enough and called to be the second councilor in the Sunday School Presidency, where my only duty was to ring a bell signaling that class was over. Shortly thereafter, my wife, a convert to the church with Baptist and Pentecostal roots, was released from teaching her Sunday school class for talking respectfully about what other churches teach.
I could go on. There is a lot more to tell, even recently.
I was released as a temple worker because I have to wear a beard (remember the folliculitis?).
After serving as an Elders Quorum teacher for only a few months I was released for explaining the history of the Word of Wisdom.
My wife and I have had several other “punitive” releases as well. I don’t care. I would rather not have a calling and simply try to do good where I can. But it is still hurtful to my wife – she really tries hard and is honest and sincere. She wants to serve in the Young Women or Relief Society and was deeply hurt when called to be the Nursery Leader again.
We were ripped off by a High Councilman who did some remodeling on our house and cheated by members who rented our house, never paid, and left with over ten thousand dollars worth of damage, cleaning and unpaid utility bills that we became responsible for.
We lent our van to a member of the Stake High Council who ran into a tree and refused to pay for repairs.
According to the Mormon Church, I have been irrelevant, irresponsible, unsightly, and unwanted – and yet I remain an active member. Why?
I do not look to the church for personal relevance, affirmation, or acceptance.
When Jesus taught at the synagogue in Capernaum, some of the doctrines were hard for his disciples to understand and accept. Many of them left and “walked no more with him” (John 6:66).
“Then said Jesus unto the twelve, Will ye also go away?
Then Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life.
And we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God.” (John 6: 67-69).
My relationship is not with the LDS Church, but with Jesus Christ.
Something happened after I left home and went to BYU. I felt pressure to serve a mission, but desired to stay in school and study Zoology. Out of respect for Dr. Kirk J. Anderson, a renowned orthopedic surgeon who had been my Seminary teacher, and more importantly, my friend, I decided to give God a chance. I read the Book of Mormon over a period of three weeks, and while reading, I prayed to a God I barely believed in. One evening, while reading in the upstairs common area of Taylor Hall (my dorm), my prayer was answered. I was filled with light, and knew with certainty and clarity that Jesus Christ lives, and that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, despite its imperfections, is His Church.
Since that time, I have had scores of confirmatory experiences, including personal revelation, healings, miracles and the ministering of angels. In addition, I have tried to study and understand the history and doctrine of the Church and have gained an appreciation for the rich texture of its history and the consistency of its doctrine with primitive Christianity.
I love the Gospel and everyone willing to be called a Latter-day Saint. At the same time, I feel for those who lose faith. One really has to have a perspective that overlooks the petty imperfections, people and problems of the earthly Church. One has to have a perspective that puts criticism into its proper context, and recognizes a preponderance of good. A testimony of Jesus Christ is an absolute necessity. It is such a testimony that requires me to forgive anyone who might have offended me, regardless of status or stature in the Church. When a church leader is overbearing, dishonest, or demonstrates poor judgment, it is unfortunate - but says nothing about the divinity of Jesus Christ or the veracity of His Church – even if that leader is the President of the Church.
L.L.Nash said “the Church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints.”
He was referring to the Church of England, but the same is true of the LDS Church and most other faiths wherein people pursue a relationship with God.
The problems I have had with the Church amount to nothing when compared to the riches I have received.
The best decision I have ever made was to read the Book of Mormon and sincerely pray. No, I cannot leave the Church. It is the Church of Jesus Christ. There is nowhere else to go.