Walking through the big iron gates, I admire the architecture, read the infographics in the Visitor’s Center, and chat with the missionaries while Rowan smiles and flirts from his stroller, always with his trusty Hot Wheels car in-hand. I like hearing their story – where they’re from, why they wanted to be a missionary, how they’re enjoying Salt Lake City.
The Temple missionaries, usually young women or an elderly couple, always ask me if I’m a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I always politely answer “No, I’m not,” and explain “But, I am a believer in Christ, and I am a part of a local church here.” This usually incites some good conversation.
During one of my trips to the Temple, I was offered a copy of their Scriptures, as “a gift from The Church,” the young man said. I thanked him, brought the book home and began to thumb through the pages while Rowan snacked on an apple. I remember a conversation I had with my dear friend Allison. She was asked by some missionaries in her neighborhood to read the entire Book of Mormon. After thinking about that concept at length over the course of the last few weeks, I thought “That’s actually a pretty good idea.”
See, here in Utah, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints makes up over 60% of the population. Yes. Over half of the entire state is considered Mormon. Which, if you know anything about Utah, that probably doesn’t surprise you.
But, as I’ve been living here in Salt Lake City, a short walk from one of the Saints’ most sacred sites, I realized that I know very little about my LDS friends’ beliefs. Everything I’ve learned about the Mormon faith has been through others, primarily people who were never Mormon, or who used to be Mormon and are no longer. Which isn’t bad, per se. The people I’ve learned from are extremely smart, analytical, knowledgable, and I trust them.
But, there’s something that I think we’ve lost in our culture of immediacy. We’ve lost a sense of discovery, hard work and independent thought when it comes to learning about other faiths. We take to our computers and scan Wikipedia for a few bullet points. We ask our friends. We maybe read a book or two, but even that is rare these days.
Aside from my friends who used to be members of the LDS church, I’m not sure I know anyone else who has willingly read The Book of Mormon, The Doctrine and Covenants, and The Pearl of Great Price (these are the three primary scriptures in the LDS faith) in their entirety.
Some of the reason is time, and I get that. We all have limited spare time to research and learn on our own.
If we’re honest, some of the reason is fear, too.
As a mainline, protestant, evangelical Christian, I’ve been taught to keep other faiths at arms-length. Never let it too close, and for heaven’s sake, PLEASE don’t read their Scriptures. Right? Don’t get me wrong, I think at some level, it’s healthy to not engage emotionally and it’s healthy to know where I am in the steadiness of my faith. I should always be evaluating that and making smart decisions.
But, at what point will I decide to grow a pair & be intellectually honest? How can I engage a thoughtful, genuine conversation about the LDS faith WITH people OF that faith, without even knowing what their Scriptures say? Without ever touching the pages and reading the words for myself, how can I talk about it with any kind of integrity? It’s too easy to slip into hearsay and assumptions. And frankly, I’m tired of assuming. I’m tired of not being self-informed. I’m tired of putting my foot in my mouth & looking like an ass… it’s awkward, uncomfortable and I’d rather do the work towards a fuller understanding. I feel like I owe it to my LDS friends, neighbors and colleagues to sit and read for a while.
So, over the course of the next year, I’ll be reading the Scriptures of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
I’m grateful to have people I trust on both sides of the Mormon faith… those who were once LDS and are no longer, and those who are currently LDS and active in their faith community. I know I can go to them with hard questions and get honest answers. I know they’ll dig in with me and help me understand. I know they’ll keep me upright, and they’ll honor both my desire to learn, and my desire to stay true to Christ as I’ve come to know Him through the Bible.
I might post more about this as the year progresses, I might not. But, I wanted to be open about what I’m pursuing & why, in hopes that it might spark a conversation about what it means to really learn about other beliefs while staying true to our own.