Encounters with Latter Day Saints

The Republican president nominee, Mitt Romney, is an adherent to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS, aka Mormons). Accordingly, this has sparked a renewed fascination in the American public and media about this religious organization. However, this fascination is not the cause of this post.

A few evenings ago, I was hurrying to complete household chores before settling in to watch Ghost Adventures when I heard the doorbell ring. I opened the door, blocking Highlander from escaping, and standing before me was two young, female missionaries.

Disclaimer: Below are my personal encounters with members of the LDS church. Therefore does not reflect upon anything beyond me and individuals of the LDS church (not the LDS church as an instituation).

Although I will spare the fine details, we had a brief conversation after their introductions. One of the missionaries questioned if I have heard of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS) or perhaps knew adherents. I responded that my hometown (Gilbert Arizona) has a large LDS population, that I have academically studied religion for seven years, and that I am serving as an Intern Pastor at a local Lutheran congregation.

At that point, the missionary questioned if I have read the Book of Mormon (their sacred scriptures) and if so, whether it was academically or spiritually. I responded that I have read only sections of the Book of Mormon and that it was for academic, study purposes not as a spiritual practice. The missionary proceeds to explain that according to a verse in the text, if you have faith and a sincere heart and you pray to God, he will show you that it [Book of Mormon] is True. Further, she encouraged me to (1) have faith, (2) a sincere heart, and (3) to pray to God in order that he will show me the “Truth”. This encouragement concluded our conversation, the missionaries continued on their path, and I returned to the household chores.

Although this was the most recent encounter with the LDS, this encounter was not the initial. Similarly her comment might have been insulting and lacking in ecumenical tack, but it was not as emotionally scarring as the vast majority of previous encounters. In fact, I admired the blunt, honest comment of her perception.

The earliest encounters were while I attended elementary school. At one end of the spectrum, peers were not permitted to socialize with me due to our differing religious affiliations. In fact, Amanda and I briefly attended another elementary school with hope to escape the stigma. Unfortunately, the religious discrimination was further extended into the school band and their Girl Scout troop; thus, we returned to the original elementary school.

Yet, at the other end of the spectrum was Kristi. Kristi had recently converted from Roman Catholic to LDS, because her mother remarried into the LDS church. Kristi and I would discuss the similarities and the differences of Roman Catholicism, Lutheranism, and Mormonism. In fact, I attended worship services with Kristi and her family once.

Additionally, while I was attending elementary and junior high school, Tonya (my mother) was involved with a man whose three children (Ryan, Megan, and Ashlee) were being raised in the LDS church. I continue to consider these three to be (step) siblings. There presence in our lives encouraged further exploration of the theology and praxis (practice) of the LDS church. Similarly, there presence in our lives has been and continues to be a blessing.

These encounters continued to evolve as I attended junior high and high school. Male peers had interesting ‘plans’ to convert me to the LDS church with hope that I might be a potential girlfriend. For example: a peer referred to me as a slut, although I was virgin. When I questioned his description, he responded that I was a slut because I was not LDS. A couple years later, the classmate admitted he had sought to motivate me to convert in order to avoid such labels. His motivation was that he had a crush on me. Admittedly, these encounters with the LDS begun to diminish as I became further involved in organizations and programs that did not have a reputation for large LDS membership.

The encounters have and will continue to evolve throughout my adulthood. However, these encounters continue to become further limited and academic/ scholarly in nature.

Yet, my family has been blessed with the friendship of a LDS couple originally from northern Arizona. We have had conversations about their experience in northern Arizona verses their experience of the LDS community in the area. She noted that the local LDS community had been less welcoming to them and echoed experiences similar to my own.

In conclusion, I have shared a few of my memorable encounters with the LDS community. These encounters are unique and may or may not echo the experience of the majority. Yet as I ponder these encounters, I have observed that:
(1) these encounters range on a spectrum from positive to indifferent to negative
(2) these encounters have impressed upon my being and continue to influence my perspective of the LDS church
(3) reinforces the knowledge that religion has tremendous influence upon individuals, communities, and the world.

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