Saturday, March 9, 2013

Oh Say, What is Truth?

People have asked me why I joined the LDS Church almost 30 years ago. One of the reasons is because it claimed to be the TRUTH. It, among so many competing voices, resolutely claimed that it is the one true church on the face of the whole earth and that its message was and is true. 

What was this message? That historical Christianity had fallen into apostasy and could not be “reformed.” That God chose to restore the true gospel in preparation for the second coming of Christ through a prophet – Joseph Smith. That, through this prophet, truths that had been on the earth at various times but then lost would be restored. That, through this prophet, the (only) authority to act in God’s name (i.e., the priesthood) was restored to the earth. That one could be “saved” through the instrumentality of this priesthood, and only through this authority and none other. That God had provided additional scripture – the Book of Mormon - as support for Joseph Smith’s divine calling. (Sure, it claimed to be an additional witness of Jesus Christ, but in practical terms, its purpose was to support Joseph Smith’s claim to be a prophet.)

I was introduced to the LDS Church at a time in my life when I was feeling somewhat lost. I sought certainty. I had been raised in the Catholic Church, then had joined a Methodist Church my senior year in high school. In college, I became disenchanted with Methodism, and, as a result of several Humanities and religion classes I had taken, came to view much of the Old Testament as mythical and allegorical - not literal. I embraced “situational ethics” and came to view Jesus more as a teacher of morals rather than my literal “savior.” Eventually, I started attending the Episcopal Church – not out of some deep religious conviction, but because I liked the music and the liturgy.

Several years passed, and due to some upheavals in my life, I found myself searching for direction and meaning. At this precise time, a devout Latter-day Saint (older) woman entered my life and convinced me to see the missionaries. Unbeknownst to her, in my search my personal mission and certainty, I had been seriously considering returning to the church of my youth and entering the priesthood. I finally decided to take the missionary discussions as a means of confirming to myself the truthfulness of Catholicism, not Mormonism.

But the Mormon missionaries offered something that even most Catholic priests could not – a certainty that their message and their church are “true.” In that very first meeting with the elders, I was introduced to that centerpiece of Mormon faith and spiritualism – the personal testimony. My elders weren’t given to oratory or long-winded testimonies. They simply taught the missionary discussions and, as they had been directed, simply stated at the end of each principle, “I know these things are true.” Period.

What they taught seemed to provide answers to so many of life’s questions. In fact – as I eventually came to learn – Mormonism provided an answer to every question. Adam and Eve were literal persons and the story of creation as presented in the Bible was, at its heart, true. The Atonement was real. The resurrection was real. Absolute truth is real. Etc., etc.

I embraced these concepts and teachings. There were many other factors that influenced my decision to join the Mormon Church (about which I plan to write), but this concept of absolute truth was critical. It remained critical throughout the next 27 years or so of my life and, as I wrote last weekend, supported and sustained the central myth of my life. I could and did rest in that truth and raised my children in that truth.

But then, that theoretical truth shattered when it collided with my existential truth that I could no longer accept or deny as false, i.e., that I am, and always have been, gay. Facing the truth of who I am led me, inexorably and inevitably, to the conclusion that the truth that I had embraced in Mormonism was not truth at all. 

I have never felt guilt for leaving the Mormon Church, but I have felt guilt for raising my children to believe in its absolute truth, then leaving them behind as I turned away from it. This is why I began a series of posts last weekend about my decision to leave the Mormon Church and why I plan to continue to write about my journey out of Mormonism: I feel a moral obligation to explain why I had to not only resign from the Church, but also to relinquish, then renounce, its beliefs.

In so doing, I will frame my discussions as if addressing my own children, which I will in fact be doing. I shall not seek to bear witness that the Church is false so much as bearing witness of my own truth, about what I have discovered about myself and about the Church during these past 18 months of study and reflection. I will also write about my ongoing spiritual journey and what I have learned along the way about “truth” and its relationship to fear. Unfortunately, I have learned, they are all too often two sides of the same coin, neither of which brings one any closer to spiritual enlightenment or, ultimately, happiness.

“Truth comes from within, not from without.”
~ Joseph Broom

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