For as long as memory permits, I have, until recently, considered myself a staunch orthodox Christian. Although I still reside in the midst of my teenage years, my ability to identify with typical problems of adolescence has disappeared in the past year. Introspective examination into the past several years has shed light on my true immaturity and close-mindedness; an immaturity which, although I still sometimes long to live in unreality, is in its final days.
To clarify, I am speaking strictly in terms of religious belief. Until I began critically evaluating my view of Mormonism, religion, and God itself, I had seen my place in existence as organized and clear-cut. However, to paraphrase and extend neurologist Kevin Nelson’s idea of the self, I have come to realize that being is similar to Picasso’s portraits, fractured, unorganized, yet somehow binding into a coherent whole.
When I had first learned about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the missionary lessons and social environment seemed packed into a neat, conservative package. Perfect. I was baptized in April 2009, and although I was not an overly-enthusiastic member at first, I gradually became more and more enamored by the seemingly impenetrable certainty offered by the church. However, 2012 brought challenges from unlikely sources: (1) a conservative Protestant friend, (2) a history textbook, and (3) History Channel. In summary, the inquiries of my friend, the subject of Mormon history being brought up in class, and a History Channel special on archaeology piqued my curiosity. I began spending hours online, reading old articles from FARMS, devouring the Maxwell Institute website, and developing a short-lived addiction to FAIR. Hugh Nibley became a temporary idol. However, the faithful answers were not wholly satisfying, and soon after, I started to read critical material, as well as posts from various forums. I could go on for hours recounting the saga of my faith crisis, but to keep a long story short, after reading dozens of books, spending an unhealthy amount of time online examining both scholarly articles and primary sources, and not receiving the same confirming answer to prayers, I came to the conclusion that strict orthodoxy was untenable.
This was new territory. If my orthodox faith in the LDS church could fall apart, what of Christianity in general? Reflecting my pattern of research during my exploration into early Mormon history, I began with intense scripture study, prayer, and lots of apologetics, especially from William Lane Craig. However, as before, those answers were not enough to satiate my hunger for knowledge and truth, whatever it was (and is) and wherever it may have been (and may be). I read Bart Ehrman’s books, which, ironically, I had first heard of in a debate with Dr. Craig. Then I moved on to theological and philosophical books by authors such as John Spong and Paul Tillich. During this time, I drifted between various forms of theism, agnosticism, and deism; similar to the Book of Mormon’s “-ites,” I called myself all sorts of “-isms.”
It was not until relatively recently that I heard about the Community of Christ, at least by that name. The Reorganized Church was only referred to on rare occasions, and never beyond an offhand comment during Sunday services. The Community of Christ intrigued me when I first looked into it. What I once would have looked at as a liberal, radical, and reform-minded (God forbid!) church, now is an object of fascination. Although I still have deeply ingrained roots in religious conservatism, it became apparent months ago that continuing such a course would leave me without any sort of belief. With the urging of John Hamer, I joined the John Whitmer Historical Association, attending my first conference several weeks ago. It was an experience I shall not soon forget.
How have I come to terms with Mormonism, Christianity, and God? While enumerating all that I have learned and now hold close would occupy a book, there are several especially important lessons. First, I no longer believe certainty is equivalent to truth. Truth must be sought after continually, and I think Socrates put it best by stating, “The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.” Second, religious liberalism is not the satanic force I once thought, but rather is an invaluable vehicle for understanding, learning, and being respectful of others. The theologian Krister Stendahl once stated that holy envy, or the admiration of other belief systems, is essential to interdenominational understanding, and ecumenismfosters that idea. Finally, I believe more than ever that, even in a rational universe, God is there, within each of us.
Hi Jeff, I enjoyed your post. I too came from a similar background of conservative religious beliefs and values. I found the same thing you did when I first looked into CofC, a group of Saints where the gospel of Jesus Christ is the focus of worship, learning, caring, and mission. The people in this church are inspired, accepting and are like family (online, congregations and mission centers).
I was sent by God Himself to live my discipleship in the Community of Christ. I have found peace in my life since I started going to my congregation. I hope you feel that same peace in yourself as you learn about the church. Personally, I have learned so much about myself and how to be more Christ like. This church has made me a better person, almost overnight.
I hope to hear more in the future!
Enjoyed your reflections… thanks for sharing.