Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Tis

Yesterday I posted an outline of my conversion from traditional Christianity to Mormonism. While many who read applauded what I had written, my friend Scott Stover commented that some of my views could cause me to lose my position as an ordinance worker as well as my temple recommend. Since it is my wish that these things do not occur, I would like to take a few moments here to clear the air and make sure that I have not been misunderstood. Most problems in life have there foundation in the slippery sod of misunderstanding.

I said in the 8th paragraph of the aforementioned post "I do take a different look than most orthodox Mormons on a few things however. The two main points would be that while I believe Joseph Smith was a prophet, I do not believe Brigham Young or any of the other presidents later were or are prophets. Why? Because they do not do any of the same kind of works of Joseph. I sustain them as the men who hold all priesthood keys and as the oracles God will speak through if he needs to communicate to all of his children, but they do not have the right to re-write history or to ignore things that Joseph Smith taught. Thankfully, this is changing to a certain extent. The other is that I do not believe that leaders are above criticism. There are no sacred cows in the church. If something is wrong, it needs to be called out and addressed regardless of who is doing it, whether that be the President of the Church, an apostle, a seventy, a stake president, a bishop, or anyone else in the church, myself included. I never raised my voice when my leaders railed against me, why should they not accept the same conditions?"

Some will have read what I wrote and think to themselves "Does this man sustain the Lord's anointed?" Or, perhaps a more pragmatic person may say "How can a person believe Joseph Smith was a prophet, but not his successors?"

These are fair questions, and I will attempt to answer them honestly. In connection with the first question, I will say that I sustain whom the Lord sustains. If a person is asked to receive my sustaining vote, I will raise my hand to the square and give them my full support. Support does not mean that I will accept everything the person does or says as something that the Lord himself would have said if he himself were present. Criticism is a sign of concern in most instances, at least it is in my case. Using your position as a shield for wrongdoing or as cover from criticism is not bravery, rather it is cowardice.

The statement "the Lord's Anointed" is a very ambiguous one, and one that I know of no concrete definition. I myself take it to mean Joseph Smith, since I know of no one else in our modern dispensation that we know of a surety was anointed by the Lord. I have never spoken ill of Joseph Smith, and quite frankly disagreeing with a priesthood leaders ideas is not speaking ill either if a person does what the leader asks, even in his/her disagreement.

As to the question of the Prophet Joseph's successors, suffice it say that I do not hold them in the same regard as I do Joseph Smith, similar to the way that one did not hold Paul in the same regard as Peter. One was the head the church, the other was a great theologian and philosopher. Both were needed, but no one would say that Paul was equal to Peter.

The same is true of the Prophet and his successors. Most people share my view implicitly if not explicitly. Notice that Joseph Smith is called "the Prophet" while his successors are called "President". Why is this the case? Because Joseph Smith is the Patriarch of our age, similar to Moses and Abraham. He deserves a higher standing in our eyes than his successors because while we could take away everything his successors did and still have pretty much the same church, you cannot take away the revelations Joseph gave us without becoming lost in a swamp of philosophical ideas that will not gain a person exaltation.

Before I was baptized, the then Elder Zach Ngawaka interviewed me for baptism and asked the following question: "Do you believe that [current Church President] is a prophet of God? What does this mean to you?" I answered that the person was Joseph's successor, held the keys of the priesthood, and was the oracle with whom God could speak to the entire world if he chose to do so. He smiled and went on to the next question. My position has not changed since August 23, 2009, the day this interview occurred.

To sustain is to support. My priesthood leaders at the local and general level have my full support, even if I am skeptical at times of their decisions. I try to remain objective enough so that I can remember that I do not have all of the information, and perhaps if I were in the situation myself I would make the same conclusion that they did.  I hope this clears the air on what I believe for those who are interested.

Monday, September 7, 2015

My Conversion Story

I am often asked the question of how I, a young American of distant African descent, came to join the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a church to some that seems to hate and despise people of my particular ethnicity. That is an issue for another post.

Usually, I give people the short version, as I frankly do not care to talk about this issue in detail very often. While my conversion certainly had and does have some very beautiful moments, it also has many moments that are dark, gloomy, and heart-wrenching.

A conversion is not a singular event; rather it is a process that occurs over a lifetime and in truth is not done when a person dies and is buried. It continues on after this life, until the time comes that a person has come to bear the express image of Jesus Christ upon their countenance. I can say with soberness that I am far away from that day, but hopefully I will get there at some point.

My conversion story really goes back to when I was very young. I was a raised as a Protestant Christian, and attended church all of my life. However, I am by nature skeptical and questioning, and the area of religion was no different. I remember one particular event that had more impact upon my life that I probably realized at the time. When I was 5 years old, I was being taught the Adam and Eve story for the first time. I remember thinking "If the Fall was a sin, then was a chance that Jesus was ultimately a reaction, rather than a pre-planned Savior." I do not know why that disturbed me, but it did.

Over time during my youth, I lost my faith in many of the traditional doctrines of Christianity (The Trinity, the Fall, the idea that all churches are equally valid, sacraments not necessarily vital), but I did not ever lose my faith in Jesus of Nazareth. So while I would self-identify as a Christian, I was in truth a very skeptical one.

Another point of contention I had with Christianity was its supernatural ideas, which I found (and still find) very superstitious. I found the Bible to be a book that had things that could not be scientifically true (a worldwide flood, Adam and Eve being the alone in the garden, Jonah living in the belly of a fish), but I was being asked to accept them as literal truth. From a  young age, I have been a naturalist and believed if there was a God, that he would follow natural law. I was also an avid Darwinist as a youth, but my grandmother told me that I could not be an evolutionist and a Christian at the same time. This caused me even more concern, and I wondered as a adolescent whether I could be a Christian as an adult.

The final issue I had was with the problem of evil, or as we call it in philosophy, theodicy. If God was perfect, why was evil in the world. However this part did not worry me as much as the idea of the afterlife. I was taught if you did not accept Jesus as your personal savior (even if you had never heard of him before) then you would burn in hell for all eternity. While that also seemed scientifically impossible (how does something burn forever?), it also seemed unnecessarily cruel. What about the good people in the world who are not Christians, or those who are in the middle between virtuous and viceful? It would seem that was where most of humanity was in my mind, but I was met with only two options : Heaven or Hell. I really pity the people who believe in such a dark creature who would torture billions forever; an immortal Joseph Stalin.

When I was around 16, I read about Mormonism in my encyclopedia. I thought that it seemed to have the most logical theology, and the most fair one. I took all the discussions from the missionaries, read many LDS theological books, and received baptism on August 30, 2009, confirmation on September 6, 2009. 6 years later, I am still a believer in the fundamentals of Mormonism: I believe in Jesus of Nazareth as the Son of God, Joseph Smith Jr. as the Prophet of the Restoration, The Book of Mormon being the word of God (although not a history of the all the Pre-Columbian Americans), the concept of God, etc. I do take a different look than most orthodox Mormons on a few things however. The two main points would be that while I believe Joseph Smith was a prophet, I do not believe Brigham Young or any of the other presidents later were or are prophets. Why? Because they do not do any of the same kind of works of Joseph. I sustain them as the men who hold all priesthood keys and as the oracles God will speak through if he needs to communicate to all of his children, but they do not have the right to re-write history or to ignore things that Joseph Smith taught. Thankfully, this is changing to a certain extent. The other is that I do not believe that leaders are above criticism. There are no sacred cows in the church. If something is wrong, it needs to be called out and addressed regardless of who is doing it, whether that be the President of the Church, an apostle, a seventy, a stake president, a bishop, or anyone else in the church, myself included. I never raised my voice when my leaders railed against me, why should they not accept the same conditions?

Like I said in the beginning, conversion is a process. Like the Prophet Joseph, I am a rough stone rolling and need to be polished and refined. I freely admit that I am a sinner and am in need of God's mercy and grace, which he has given far more than I have deserved. In time, as I continue to refine myself and allow others to help along the way, perhaps one day I will be the son of God that he expects and requires me to be. Not nearly there yet, but I will keep trying.

I want to end my story with sharing my testimony: I believe that there is a being in the universe who is divine, and who we in laymen's terms we call God. I believe that he is not my father only, but the father of the entire human race. I believe that Jesus of Nazareth, through a natural process, is his only begotten Son, and the Savior of mankind. I believe that Joseph Smith Jr. was a prophet of God if there ever was one, and that besides Jesus himself, was the greatest man who ever lived. I believe that despite its many flaws and imperfections (which should not be glossed over), the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is and remains the bride of Christ, and the only Church on the face of this Earth that has the truth about the nature of God, the nature of salvation, and the nature and potential of mankind in its most pure form. I am grateful everyday the Lord allowed me, a brash and occasionally arrogant young man, to find his gospel, and to have the opportunity to share it with others on a mission in the south and with others after that. Thank God for his amazing and sustaining grace.