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A Former “Heretic” on Trinity Sunday

Seth Sawyer

Rachel Lu - published on 06/19/14

A former Mormon explains what being Catholic means to her.

Last week the Mormon missionaries stopped by looking for me. This hadn’t happened in awhile, but it’s not an unfamiliar experience. Five years ago I formally petitioned to have my name removed from the LDS Church’s membership records, and after that I didn’t hear from them for a while. But eventually the mail started coming again. And now there were these white-shirted 20-year-olds on my doorstep asking for me.

I invited them in. They declined, citing the “three man rule”. (They’re not supposed to be alone with women unless another man is on the premises.) So we stood awkwardly in the doorway while I explained that the reason they never saw me at church was that I had apostatized from the Mormon faith some years before, and was now a practicing Catholic.

They asked why and I briefly explained. (I believe that Rome, not Salt Lake, is rock on which Christ’s Church is resting.) They challenged me to read the Book of Mormon and I cheerfully declined. (I’ve read it twice before, but now I have other reading priorities.) In their final go-for-broke play, they read me a three-verse passage from the Book of Mormon, and urged me to ask God directly about the truth of the Mormon faith. I gently explained that this would not be appropriate, because it isn’t a question that I have anymore. When God has already answered the deepest question of your heart, the correct response is to embrace the truth gratefully. It would just be churlish to keep pestering him about it.

After that I stood patiently and let them have the final word, accepted their phone number (on condition that they wouldn’t return unless I called it), and wished them a pleasant day.

My husband doesn’t understand why I bother talking to missionaries. He just says, “not interested” and closes the door, which is perfectly reasonable. It’s like hanging up on phone solicitors; if you’re not going to buy anything they’d probably rather save the time than listen to the pleasantries.

Still, with several generations’ worth of Mormon ancestors behind me, I feel that Mormons are “my people” in a kind of ethno-cultural sense. I can’t just slam the door on them, and if the local Mormon authorities want an account of me, I’m willing to give it. For all its flaws, Mormonism is the faith of my forefathers. But even beyond familial loyalty, I feel deeply grateful to the LDS Church for its incalculable contribution to my childhood and youth. Mormons taught me my Bible stories and gave me lots of no-nonsense straight talk about chastity. It’s hard to exaggerate the value of that in these confused times. Mormons also gave me a wonderful appreciation for what supportive, functional, family-oriented church communities can do. There’s a lot to be said for them and I would have been happy to stay, but for the inconvenient fact that I wasn’t a believer, and wasn’t willing to pretend.

I’m one of those cautious types who spent quite a number of years flitting on the outskirts of the Church before taking the plunge. Conversion itself, when I finally got around to it, wasn’t a particularly thrilling experience. Swimming the metaphorical Tiber was a lot like (I suspect) swimming the actual Tiber: I felt cold, muddy and rather alone. This is not so uncommon, I have found, among intellectual converts. We gobble the “good stuff” (theology, spirituality) in the safety of our bedrooms, and find that this sweet fruit has a pit in the middle. The intellectual journey is thrilling, but at the time of conversion itself, the unpleasant social components dominate the foreground. As my catechist recognized (he found me puzzling in the extreme), my original “Here I am, Lord,” was not offered with particular enthusiasm or delight.

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