[… continued from this post]
I met with the missionaries at my girlfriend’s apartment, once a week I think. It was fascinating to me. They explained (which I had heard before during a Temple tour) how some of the ancient Israelites had come over from the Holy Land, across the ocean, and landed in America. And they assigned me readings from the Book of Mormon (BOM). The very idea of the BOM was fascinating, if true. In fact a part of me wanted it to be true, because it would be so mindblowing, I suppose because it would bring Christianity closer to home, since these purportedly scriptural events took place right in my own homeland rather than in some unknown land on the other side of the world.
Not to mention the First Vision in the woods of New York State. Here was a humble rural boy, who evidently believed in God and was on the same sort of quest I was on: to know the true religion so that he might follow it. And he went out and prayed and BAM! did he ever get an answer, spelled out in black-and-white with no two ways about it: JOIN NONE OF THEM.
The missionaries told me to pray. They said something along the lines of, if the Book of Mormon is true then you will experience a burning in the bosom giving you a conviction of its truth. That seemed dubious, but I felt that it couldn’t hurt to do as they said. Maybe there was more to it than I realized, and I would know what they were talking about once I experienced it.
Except I didn’t experience it. I did everything I was asked, and prayed as sincerely as I could, with my mind as open as I could make it. But I just wasn’t struck with a conviction of its truth.
Around this time I told my mom what I was doing, over the phone. Before I knew it I received a package from her containing literature: Booklets, pamphlets and leaflets giving, let’s say, the other side of the story. OK, it was anti-Mormon stuff. My girlfriend was horrified, and said I simply should not read it. I wasn’t giving the Church a fair chance if I was reading information against it while inquiring into its truth.
But I couldn’t agree with that. I was studying not only Mormonism but the Christian religion in general, with the goal of deciding which church to join. The missionaries were telling me basically that all other Christian churches had gone wrong, the priesthood was lost from the earth, and there was a total, or at least a “great” aspostasy from the true faith within 400 years or so after Christ’s death; in short, that “their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt”. That sounded every bit as “anti” as the anti-Mormon materials I was reading.
Obviously when considering any question in dispute, with the goal of arriving at an answer, you want to consider both sides of the issue and not only the “pro” side. How much more so when the question involves your eternal destiny?
In any event, I didn’t swallow the “anti” stuff whole. I could see that some of the accusations and information were presented in a biased and summary way, often begging the question (“The scriptures say you should not add to scripture.” Well yeah, but the whole question is whether the BOM is scripture). What they taught me, though, was that Mormon claims were vehemently disputed by the adherents of other Christian faiths.
Bear in mind that at this point I was nearly as ignorant of the various “orthodox” Christian religions as I was of Mormonism.
I ended up taking the lessons twice more, before giving up hope of converting and marrying my girlfriend. The good and lasting benefit of having done so was that they got me reading, sources both Mormon and non-Mormon, studying scripture, and praying, as I never had before. My mom sent me another C.S. Lewis book, as well as The Imitation of Christ and a short paraphrase of the Summa Theologica. I also studied books that my girlfriend gave me, including Bruce R. McConkie’s Mormon Doctrine and others such as the Discourses of the Prophet Brigham Young (well, parts of it).
I attended sacrament meetings and Sunday school classes (I forget what they called Sunday school). And I also started going to Mass.
(In the next installment I will talk more specifically about the obstacles to belief that I encountered.)
[To be continued …]