A few weeks ago, my Mormon congregation paid our annual visit to the Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church in South Central Los Angeles. It’s a tradition I’ve participated in every year since moving to LA; we visit their congregation in the summer, and they come to ours in the fall.
I will admit I was nervous the first time I went. Inglewood, CA is basically the polar opposite of my hometown of Provo, Utah, and I just didn’t know exactly how it would go down. But upon attending that first Sunday, I was struck by how familiar it felt; what seemed foreign at first glance turned out to be a similar atmosphere of love, devotion, and faith.
I am always touched by how welcome I feel at the Baptist Church. Someone gives an opening prayer and thanks God for the friendship between our faiths. Then we take a twenty-minute break to walk around and greet each other. We hug and smile and shake hands, even though we don’t know each other from Adam. It couldn’t be more different from the polite, demure Mormon congregation I have attended my whole life.
Then the music starts. They have a full choir backed by a piano and a guitar and drums. Drums! At church!! Only someone who has grown up with Mormon hymns can understand how exciting that is.
We shout praises and yell Hallelujah, and I feel it in my bones.
For me, attending the Baptist church is a deeply spiritual experience. And this last time it got me thinking.
It reminded me of a conversation I had with a friend about religion. He asked me if I thought God was Mormon. After a moment of thinking about it, I startled myself when I answered no.
I don’t think God is a Mormon; I think God is truth.
I believe you can find God’s truth in myriad places—a Mormon church and a Baptist congregation are just two of them.
The problem is, truth is a tricky subject these days. We have more information available than ever, and yet so many of us still struggle with basic questions about life.
Unfortunately, I don’t think information always equals truth.
There are a lot of voices shouting at us constantly, and it takes a lot of effort to sift through them to get to the truth. Take, for example, something as simple as reading the news. If you want the truth, you have to read the same story from three separate sources — whatever pieces match up are probably somewhere close to the truth. Then we have movies and media, which would have us believe that true love comes in the form of a sparkly vampire who stands over your bed and watches you sleep. And then there are those blasted advertisers—don’t even get me started on them!
We live in a time when everything is sensationalized, and more frustratingly, polarized. I might be alone in this, but I personally detest feeling like the truth is so often obscured. It leaves me frustrated, skeptical, and jaded.
It is precisely for this reason that I like being Mormon; I crave an undiluted source of truth.
In 1820, Joseph Smith asked a question that many of us have asked: “where can I find truth?” He had asked pastors, he had asked his parents, but none of them had an answer that satisfied him. And so, he asked God.
We believe that when Joseph asked God that question, he received a direct and personal answer.
We believe that through Joseph, God restored Prophetic revelation to the earth, so that a church could again be led by ordained servants who are instructed by God. But even more than that, God opened the heavens so that each one of us can receive personal revelation.
That truth has been vital to my life.
It has made it possible for me to have a deep and personal relationship with my Father in heaven. It wasn’t an inherent perk that came with being born into a Mormon family, nor did it descend upon me immediately after I was baptized. It has come as the result of a million thoughts and inquiries and prayers, and a lot of periods of doubt and confusion in between.
My relationship with God has developed gradually as I have spoken to him and expected to hear back.
My faith is not built on a church, it’s founded in a God; one that is infinitely understanding and deeply aware of us personally.
The thing is, life is weird. This is maybe the only thing I know for sure after having entered adulthood. Things will happen that will shake your faith, whether it’s death, disappointment, heartache, disagreement, the list could go on for days.
Things will even happen within the church that can shake your faith, because while God’s servants are ordained by God, they are still men—trying, like you and I, to be a little better, but struggling, like you and I, with the reality of imperfection. For me personally, I need my faith to be rooted in something big enough that when men may falter, my faith can endure.
So when life gets weird, I look to God. Yes, I look around to my family and friends and church. I go to people with questions and I look to them for support. But ultimately, my faith is between me and one other person, and that person is God. He gives us truth individually, in ways that only make sense to you or to me. He speaks the language of our souls and I think he will find us when we seek him.
I don’t think God is a Mormon. After all, Jesus was a Jew. I think God is so much bigger than our earthly organized religions. And yet organized religions exist, because God needs channels by which he can share his truth.
So as I was standing in a Baptist sermon, swaying and clapping, I asked myself, Why, of all the organized religions, am I Mormon?
Why am I part of a church that has such a demanding doctrine, and a history I sometimes can’t explain?
Why do I defend a church that continues to be both publicly and even privately misunderstood?
There are a lot of reasons.
Mormonism gives me a safe place to be with God every Sunday and has taught me how to find him once I leave.
It gives me something worthwhile to work toward; it teaches me that there is a purpose for my life.
It gives me an understanding of what lasting happiness is and helps me work towards it.
It gives me a community of people who are aware of me and care about my well-being.
But most of all, Mormonism teaches me, and each of us, to do what Joseph Smith did–to ask God to help us find the truth.
To that I say, Hallelujah.