I’m a more recent convert to the Church, made official in January 2006, but my conversion story starts a long time ago, when I was around 6-years-old. My parents had recently divorced and as the result of reaching out to friends for guidance and support, my mom discovered a more personal relationship with Jesus Christ, and experienced His healing powers. I remember she had one such friend over for dinner, and this person testifying of Jesus Christ. My mom, brothers, sister, and I all sat around that table and said a prayer together, inviting Jesus into our lives, to be our Lord and Savior.
In that moment I knew that I had a made a commitment to Christ and that my life would somehow be different and better than it would have been otherwise. I watched my mom in the ensuing months and years, and her life was different. She began believing that our family was supposed to be back together again, that God would touch my father’s heart, and bring him back home to us a changed man.
Of course, to my advantage it turns out, I was young and naïve and so I believed my mom when she proclaimed it would happen. She lived and breathed her faith in Christ and the promise that He gave her, even in the face of everyone who told her she was nuts.
Years later, my dad was engaged to another woman and during this time in his life, he met someone who testified of Christ to him. The Spirit pricked his heart and he responded. He couldn’t keep his nose out of the Bible or preachers off the television.
One day I came home from 5th grade to find my dad over at my mom’s house – both sitting together at the dining room table. This is a scene that just wouldn’t have occurred. My parents hadn’t spoke in years about anything but the transporting of us kids, and they certainly would not choose to meet in person together like this.
Seeing my confusion, my parents smiled and gestured for me to come in. My dad opened his arms and invited me onto his lap. He asked me if I had just one wish to come true, what would it be. Feeling the Spirit in that moment, my answer was for him to come home. Both of us in tears, he held me close and said my wish was coming true.
Through the healing powers of God, my parents managed to set aside their differences, welcome each other back into their lives, and reunite our family. They are still together this day, some 25 years later.
This sounds like a fairytale ending for every child, as it is, rightly so, every child’s dream. It doesn’t usually happen, but it was right for my parents and it’s been part of their testimony of Christ that has helped many other families going through difficult times.
I learned my greatest lesson in faith from my mother, who steadfastly prayed for and believed in reconciliation with my dad; and my greatest lesson in obedience from my father, who had also relinquished his life to Christ just before he felt God telling him to reunite his family while being engaged to another woman. At 10-years-old I had a very strong testimony of Jesus Christ. I was quite the little missionary growing up; often teaching my friends about Christ and leading them through a prayer to acknowledge Him as their Lord and Savior and to invite Him into their hearts and lives.
I was not a perfect child, but despite any dumb choices I made, I always knew I was called, as a Christ-follower, to be different than the world and I did strive to live up to that. In Junior High School I was very active in my church youth group, being responsible for bringing many of the attendees at our weekly meetings.
However, I stopped going to church around the age of 17. I was getting disenchanted with it. Unfortunately, I chose to focus on the judgment and hypocrisy I saw around me; instead of focusing on the Creator, I let the imperfections of His people bother me. I didn’t see the need to go to church as I began to feel like I wasn’t being spiritually fed there anymore and a certain reverence seemed to be missing.
While I stopped going to church, I did not stop studying the Bible and keeping Christ close to my heart. But as the years went by I slowly felt further and further away from Him and I lost the feeling that His Spirit was with me from time-to-time. The Bible eventually also lost its allure for me and my prayers became inconsistent and more out of duty than sincerity.
Over the ensuing years I suffered with severe bouts of depression and had developed more questions than answers about the Gospel. I wondered what happened to those who died without the privilege of hearing about Christ. As I understood it, the reality was that most people, from the beginning of time to the end of time, will not hear about Jesus. Many of those who have heard of Him, post His mortal existence, would not have a real opportunity to learn about Him and what He’s done for us, let alone plug into a system to further solidify the Gospel in their lives. And what of all the people who lived before the meridian of time, before Christ came to earth?
The best answer I got was that we just don’t understand how God’s mercy may work in those circumstances. While I knew I couldn’t comprehend God’s mercy, I also knew that the Bible said that no one could come unto the Father except through His Son, Jesus Christ. The only alternative that I knew of was eternal damnation. This and other issues created even more distance between God and me, as I felt I didn’t like what I knew of His plan very much. While I still believed in Redemption and Salvation through Jesus Christ, I felt mad that it seemed to be so unfair. I could not find it in me to share what I knew of the Gospel like I once had. Who was I to be so fortunate to live after Christ came, and in America? I happened to be in the slim minority of ‘lucky’ ones, and I wasn’t okay that luck could play an impossible role in my eternal salvation, and that the ‘unlucky’ ones would all be damned to hell.
In 2003, my business partner and I began discussing the Scriptures. I knew he was a Mormon and I wondered how this highly intelligent man could be so lost spiritually and duped by Mormonism! Unfortunately, in the Christian community there can be a lot of time and energy put into slandering the Mormon Church. Growing up I spent time reading many anti-Mormon books, developing strong opinions about the fallacy of the Church, and even entered into several debates against it. I began asking my partner questions about his beliefs – which I felt I knew the answers to already through my anti-studies. I wanted to open a dialogue with him so I could show him how lost he was. While I did have an agenda, I also sincerely cared about the state of his soul.
Over the next two-years we spent countless hours discussing our beliefs and kindly showing each other the others fallible thinking. One night about six-months into these discussions, I realized that this Mormon thing could actually be true and I lay in bed wailing. I knew if I found it was true, it would shake up my whole world as everyone close to me in my life at the time was a Born Again Christian, and grossly misunderstood “Mormonism”, as did I. Although I was very thick-headed and stubborn, God was slowly opening my heart and I could not deny the Spirit that was pricking at it.
Since my heart took a turn and I was willing to let go of my agenda, I was finally sincere in our discussions, and I told my friend that I wanted him to show me how the Church could be true by only referring to the New Testament. He advised me to read the Book of Mormon and pray about it. I countered that I wasn’t interested in relying on some fluffy feeling that perhaps I could not trust, and said that what I really needed was an intellectual conversion. I could literally see him roll his eyes through the phone as he sighed and said, “okay”.
We spent the next 18-months or so going through the New Testament looking at all the points of the Church as Christ had established it. Some of his most memorable outbursts to my objections were “you can’t be anything but Mormon after reading the New Testament!” and “why do we call Him Father if he is not our literal Father!” I deserved every sarcastic outburst and more as we word-picked our way through the New Testament. Every couple of months he would explode, “Would you just read the Book of Mormon and pray about it!” But no, I would not. However, I was gaining many small witnesses of truth by reading the New Testament in light of the doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Even though I was sincere in my search for the truth, I was still not ready to hear the answer I knew (yes, I knew) I would get. I needed a bullet proof conviction and testimony composed of intellect and a spiritual witness because I knew the importance of a solid foundation. My house had to be built solidly so it would not blow away when the rains came down. For me, the harsh weather would come in the form of my concerned family and friends, expressing shock and grief, and trying to talk me out of my new understanding of the Gospel.
By May of 2005 I had read through the Book of Mormon, and from my new understanding of what the Church believed and having re-read the New Testament in its light, I felt ready to pray and ask God to confirm what I now thought to be true. I took the counsel of Moroni and asked our Father in heaven if the Restored Gospel was true. I received the confirmation I sought as the Spirit came strongly upon me.
I was still not ready to face the opposition I knew I would receive, so I continued to learn more and more until I was finally baptized some eight-months later.
I did live through a division with my family through my conversion process. I don’t blame them. We were equally to blame – none of us knew how to handle the situation. Imagine your son or daughter, sister or brother, converting to Judaism… it may as well been Judaism as far as my family was concerned.
My family loved me enough to get emotionally distraught over what they couldn’t possibly understand, and I couldn’t expect them to. I was absolutely torn by what I knew our Father in heaven was showing me and the love I had for my family. We were very tight, and this kind of wedge was such a foreign and uncomfortable dynamic for us. Over time, I think we all realized our relationship was more important than any of us being right and selling our positions. I am again grateful for a loving and respectful family dynamic.
In any situation, one has to be ready to hear truth before they can humble themselves enough to even be open to possibilities outside of their current belief system. It truly is the hardest thing I have ever done in my life – that is to let go of all my filters, known as a belief system, that I’d subscribed to most of my life and allow a foreign, and even forbidden, belief penetrate as a possibility. Luckily for me, there wasn’t a big gap from where I started and where I ended. (And frankly, if I even thought once I would have to give up believing in the divinity of Jesus Christ, there would have been no further investigation.) This process took years of baby steps for me, so I can’t ask for more from anyone else.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has answers that I was begging for. 1 Peter 4:6 says, “For for this cause was the gospel preached also to them that are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the Spirit.” Apparently, this verse has always been in my Bible, I just never noticed it before ;-) And here is another one that apparently has always been in my Bible: 1 Peter 3:19 “By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison.”
So why would Jesus preach to the spirits in prison if, since they have died on earth, there was no chance after death to receive Him? Surely He is not just taunting them, showing them what they could have had. This is just one example of the many jewels I discovered in my own Bible in accordance with the doctrine of our Church. Lo, and behold, it turns out the Bible is Mormon Scripture, too. ;-)
In addition, as a whole, my experiences of the people in this Church exemplify Christ-like qualities more than any other people I know. I hope you all know what you have. I hope you don’t take it for granted. I hope you see the plain and precious truths the Restoration of the Gospel really does have to offer. Here we have great sensibility, order, structure, and practicality.
Some say Joseph Smith’s account of being visited by Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ is too outrageous, too unbelievable! To that I ask, “Really?”, and Noah preparing an ark large enough for at least two of every creature on earth isn’t? Moses hearing the voice of God through a burning bush isn’t? Elijah being taken up into heaven in a chariot of fire isn’t?
Then they’ll attack Joseph Smith’s character and by his flaws try to prove he therefore cannot be called a Prophet of God. They conveniently forget about the major sins (including murder and adultery) depicted in the Old Testament of the ancient Prophets they so readily and easily accept and forgive. They forget that Peter the Apostle denied Christ three times. How they would love to read an account of Joseph Smith denying Christ even once. They forget that Paul tried to destroy Christ’s church before he was called, and was jailed several times after. Were these men of the New Testament unworthy because of their reputation and/or character? Or did Christ call them because they were willing, and not perfect? And are their callings any less true because of their flawed reputations?
The Bible says in 1 John 4:2: “Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God.”
2 John 7 says, “ For many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an anti-Christ.”
We’ve got to stop allowing the world to create doubt in our lives about the Prophetic calling of Joseph Smith. No man is perfect. Joseph wasn’t, but neither was Adam, Noah, Moses, Abraham, or David. Some of the ancient Prophets committed sins worse than Joseph has ever been accused of. Perfection is not required to be called of God in the work of His Kingdom. It is a willing spirit that is required. We’ve got to stop allowing the rest of the world to get away with judging Joseph Smith with a higher set of standards than they judge the Prophets and Apostles of old. We’ve got to stop allowing them to get away with investigating the flaws of Mormonism when they are not willing to investigate or see the flaws in early Christianity that they so easily subscribe to with more lenient standards. We’ve got to stop allowing these inconsistent standards negatively affect our testimonies. I am embarrassed to say that it is so easy for the mainstream Christian faith to throw rocks when we all seem to live in glass houses.
No man, or group of men, could have written the Book of Mormon in five years let alone 90-days. If it were an angel of light, which is to say the devil, which appeared to Joseph Smith, he wouldn’t have written the book to be in agreement with the Bible and say, “Yes! Worship Christ, He is our Redeemer!” Like 2 John 7 says, He would have tried to steer us away from Christ and possibly ask us to worship himself. At the end of the day, amidst all of the anti-Mormon propaganda, we must ask ourselves, where did this book come from, and who is the author? What book is this that it also testifies of Jesus Christ?
The late Elder Orson F. Whitney related the following:
“Many years ago a learned man, a member of the Roman Catholic Church, came to Utah and spoke from the stand of the Salt Lake Tabernacle. I became well-acquainted with him, and we conversed freely and frankly. A great scholar, with perhaps a dozen languages at his tongue’s end, he seemed to know all about theology, law, literature, science and philosophy. One day he said to me: ‘You Mormons are all ignoramuses. You don’t even know the strength of your own position. It is so strong that there is only one other tenable in the whole Christian world, and that is the position of the Catholic Church. The issue is between Catholicism and Mormonism. If we are right, you are wrong: if you are right, we are wrong; and that’s all there is to it. The Protestants haven’t a leg to stand on. For, if we are wrong, they are wrong with us, since they were a part of us and went out from us; while if we are right, they are apostates whom we cut off long ago. If we have the apostolic succession from St. Peter, as we claim, there is no need for Joseph Smith and Mormonism; but if we have not that succession, then such a man as Joseph Smith was necessary, and Mormonism’s attitude is the only consistent one. It is either the perpetuation of the gospel from ancient times, or the restoration of the gospel in latter days.'” (LeGrand Richards, A Marvelous Work and a Wonder, rev. ed. [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1970] pp. 3-4)
As a newer convert who has read just about every popular anti-Mormon book out there and is well versed in many of the anti-Mormon websites and other literature, I would like to invite any of you who struggle with doubt to seek answers to your questions. There should be no shame in having questions; rather it is a shame not to seek answers or peace about your questions. Avoiding our questions will weaken our testimonies. Truth stands all scrutiny. Walk through the scrutiny and fear it not; because the truth, whatever it may be in any circumstance, will always be waiting on the other side.
If we really want to get to truth, sincerely asking questions can only lead us closer to it. However, as C.S. Lewis said, “Some people do not want truth, especially when it runs up against their pride or prejudices.” He also said we should never ask ourselves if we like a particular doctrine, but instead we should ask ourselves, “Does my conscience move me toward this? Is my reluctance to knock at this door due to my pride, or my mere taste, or my personal dislike of this particular door-keeper?”
If we really want truth, the worst thing we can do though is search on Google, as our doubts will only be supported by ex or non-members. I know from experience in talking to ex-members, that most use their victim story about how someone in the Church did them wrong as their justification for leaving. It’s just like my own experience as a teen when I stopped going to church. These stories do not change Truth. They only remind us of the humanity of those who strive to follow the truth, despite whether they do it poorly or well. Man will always fail us, no matter where we go. The foundation of our testimony cannot lie on anything but Jesus Christ, the only person strong enough to support it.
And finally, when we are trying to learn the truth about a subject, it makes the most sense to consult the actual subject matter, and not the commentaries on the subject.
I testify that Jesus is the Christ. He loves us, He knows us, and He is the way back to our Father.
These things I say, in the name of Jesus Christ.