Like many people in the Church, I was “born Mormon”. I have ancestors who were born in Winter Quarters in 1846 on their way to Zion. I have generation after generation in the Church. I was born to active Mormon parents. I went to Primary on weekdays and 2 separate blocks of church on Sundays. I visited all of the church historical sites and was baptized in the Susquehanna River at the Aaronic Priesthood restoration site. I was an Eagle scout and was on seminary council in high school. I received a 4-year scholarship to BYU. I went on a mission, serving in various callings including zone leader and AP. I got married in the temple and have amazing and active children. I’ve served in numerous callings, gone on Treks with the youth, and have helped with whatever has been asked. (OK – I do suck doing formal visits as a home teacher – but who’s perfect?). I follow the Word of Wisdom and have always paid tithing. I’ve always been active and I have a temple recommend (although I don’t go as much as I should). Is all this enough? Are all these things a valid answer to “why” I am a Mormon?
While there are many things I’ve done because I was “born Mormon”, there is one major thing which I have NEVER done because of that – I’ve never had to “convert” to Mormonism. In all my life, I’ve never “chosen” to be a Mormon – I was simply “born Mormon”. I chose where to go to school. I chose who I was going to marry. I chose my profession. I have chosen many things. But I’ve never conscientiously chosen what is perhaps the biggest decision of all – my religion.
Granted, we teach that there are many benefits to being “born in the covenant”. We teach that the valiant were saved and born to LDS families. We teach the benefit of not needing to “find” the truth, but receiving it from a young age. This isn’t unique to us. Buddhists teach that if someone is good in a prior life (or as we might say – pre-mortal life) they will be blessed with being born into a valiant Buddhist family where it will be easier for them to receive the truth. Muslims might tout the blessing of being born into a Muslim family and not an infidel. Etc.
So, being born into a situation can be seen as a great blessing, but are there any disadvantages? Is there something to be said for a conscientious decision to struggle, to investigate, to ponder, and to actually choose one’s religion? Does someone voluntarily choosing a religion change their fervor for that religion? Perhaps. And, importantly, can someone “convert” to their own religion?
We teach a form of this in the LDS Church, that everyone needs to “gain a testimony”, but what does this mean? As above, I’ve been involved with and have been active in the Church my entire life. I have read the Book of Mormon at least 15 times and have prayed about it hundreds of times. I’ve read hundreds of LDS books over the years. I’ve taught countless lessons to investigators and other members. Yet, at the end of it all, I still can’t say that I’ve experienced that indescribable moment of “conversion”. I don’t know what that would actually entail, as everyone experiences it differently, but if I’m honest, I still can’t say that I “know” Mormonism is any more true or less true than any other faith. But is that enough, or should I be looking for something else?
In reality, I have looked at a lot of other faiths. I went to a Jewish synagogue when I was young and learned Hebrew. I’ve studied Islam and have read the Qu’ran (on my bucket list is to actually read it in Arabic, which I’ll have to learn first). Hinduism is beautiful and the Bhagavad Gita is one of my favorite books. I have encountered more profound truths in Buddhism about reality and myself than I have seen in any other place, including my own faith. Meditation clears my mind and teaches me a lot. I greatly admire the faith of many other Christian denominations, where trust is ultimately and profoundly placed in Christ, without our Mormon neuroses on being “good enough”. I have encountered amazing truths in all of these faiths, and continually learn new things.
Given this, why don’t I leave Mormonism and join one of these faiths? The Dalai Lama perhaps has an ideal attitude. When he visited Canada in 2007, a Catholic asked if he should convert to Buddhism. The Dalai Lama replied that the man should use Buddhism to become a better Catholic. He has repeatedly used the quote that “we should bloom where we are planted.” So, I’ve used all of these other faiths to become a better Mormon. They fill in gaps where our faith is, quite frankly, deficient in emphasis. I am more empathetic to others. I see God in more simple and mundane things. I care more about the earth and the world. I see myself intimately bonded to everyone I encounter. I am a better person. But, am I a better “Mormon”?
I still can’t get up in a testimony meeting and say “I know the Church is true”. I can’t see serving in an administrative role that would require me to be able to say this is the “only true Church”. I can’t really see trying to convert someone to the LDS faith, when I think their faith is wonderful as well and has just as much to offer me as mine has to offer them. I think Joseph Smith was a prophet who touched the Divine, but I also feel the same about Muhammad and Buddha.
Might this someday change? Perhaps. I’m always open to the chance that I will have some experience that will give me the profound “testimony” that the typical Mormon talks about in testimony meeting or that we hear in General Conference. I don’t know when, if or how this will come, but at this point, I doubt it will be from reading the Book of Mormon for the 16th or 17th or 20th or 30th time. I doubt it will be from praying about it for the hundredth or thousandth time. In reality, it’s in God’s hands. I may have that experience someday, insha’Allah, if I need that for a role He wants me to fill. And if not, that’s God’s will too.
In the meantime, I can still say I’m Mormon merely because I was “born Mormon”. My curiosity will still drive my search for truth, wherever that may be. My compassion will still cause me to love my fellow man. My faith will still cause me to thank God for my blessings and to ask Him to bless those around me. And I’ll always say, “I’m Mike, I’m a family man, a music-lover and a surgeon. And I’m a Mormon.”
I may always say “I’m a Mormon” merely because I was “born Mormon”. But … that’s enough for me.
- The majority of people in the world belong to their faith, not because of any characteristics of their faith, but simply because they were born into that faith. Is that sufficient for Mormonism?
- Can someone who is Mormon primarily because they were “born Mormon” fill ALL roles in the LDS Church? Primary teacher? Sunday School teacher? Bishop? Stake President? Missionary? Or do they need “more”?
- What truths from other faiths have helped you with a deeper understanding of your own faith?