I went to school with Mormons. I didn't know it though and it wouldn't have mattered. Everyone who wasn't a Follower was a worldly person. They could worship whoever and however they chose, they were lost to eternity regardless.
In college, my United States history teacher introduced the Mormons in a way that left no doubt in my mind what she thought of the religion. The essence of her explanation was that there was a man named Joseph Smith who claimed angels talked to him and revealed new Holy Scriptures to him. He founded a new religion – Mormonism – and conveniently instituted the practice of polygamy in his religion which caused persecution and thus westward migration and the founding of the state of Utah. My professor clearly did not think highly of this religion.
Not long after that, I ran into an old high school classmate, who revealed that she had grown up Mormon, and went on to list off the names of our Mormon classmates – some very popular kids. I had no idea.
Two years later I became friends with a coworker who referred to herself as a “Jack Mormon” – a term she explained meant that she was raised in the Mormon religion but was not practicing the religion. She was a “Jack Mormon” rather than an ex-Mormon because if and when she ever returned to a faith, it would be Mormonism. My friend, we’ll call her Wendy (but that’s not her name) and I shared many coffee dates – we also shared many adult beverages, and she taught me to smoke cigarettes.
Three years into our friendship, Wendy moved to a town near Reno, Nevada. I agreed to drive down with her and fly home so she wouldn’t be alone. On the drive down, Wendy smoked her pot pipe regularly until I reached my threshold and asked for the keys. Modern day Suzi would’ve demanded the keys immediately, but my personality hadn’t developed quite so much back then.
I stayed with Wendy for a few days – we visited Lake Tahoe and had some home cooked meals. Then I took a plane back home to Portland. It was the end of our close friendship, but we have continued to correspond and have visited each other a handful of times in the years since.
A few months after her move, Wendy went through a major crisis – the nature of which is now unimportant. But her personality changed dramatically during this period. I called her one evening and noticed that there was a complete serenity about the way she spoke of the terrible things she was going through.
“How can you be so peaceful?” I said.
“When I am scared or lonely or frustrated, I just get down on my knees and talk to Jesus.” She said.
What had happened to my free-spirited, pot-smoking friend? I was intrigued.
A few weeks later, I flew down to Reno for a visit. She was living with a woman who owned a horse ranch and, in exchange for room and board, Wendy was training horses and giving individual horse riding lessons. The home and surroundings were beautiful.
The day after I arrived, Wendy and I took to the mountain and had a blast skiing. That evening – it was a Saturday night in a small town, Wendy’s host invited us out to hear some live music at a tavern. Wendy and I were both in our mid-twenties, but neither of us were drinkers at that point (alcohol never agreed much with me and Wendy had quit drinking). We sat at the bar sipping our caffeine-free sodas while the typical tavern patrons stared at us in disbelief.
Finally, a man approached and asked if he could buy us drinks. We politely declined – we still had full sodas. Then he asked if we were there with a parent. I guess there had been a big debate as to our ages and how we were in a tavern. That was a nice compliment. Wendy was a tiny girl – tall but very thin – with beautiful long blond hair. It was easy to see how people would think she was ten years younger, and I liked being lumped into the same youthful category.
We danced with some of the locals - including some Marines from a local base - to the fun country-western band and that was the night Wendy met her future husband (a Marine), though she didn't expect that outcome at the time.
The next morning, Wendy brought me to her church. Yes, she was back in the full swing of her Mormon religion. I was curious to see what it was all about.
We were greeted by two “elders” who were nineteen or twenty years old. We went into the sanctuary and sat for the sermon. I didn’t hear most of the sermon because the church members each had four or five or a million young children climbing over and under the benches and being squirrelly. The Followers had their children in church too, but parents with small children sat in the back rows and the moms took their children to one of the baby rooms if they made a peep. By the time we were three we knew how to sit still and quiet during church.
After the service, we went to a bible study group – women only. The leader walked us through a lesson that had to do with the Book of Revelation and its related explanatory scriptures in one of the Mormon books. Interesting.
I never went back to a Mormon church – it’s never held any appeal or modicum of validity to me. But I have made many more Mormon friends and acquaintances – some good and some not so much. Many Mormon friends, coworkers, and missionaries (elders) have tried to convince and convict me of the truth of this religion, but alas, I am un-Mormonizable. If Mormonism is true, I will be stuck in a lower heaven for all of eternity - unless some future generation gets baptized in my stead after I die. Either way, I'm okay with the risk.
The church experiences I've described today and last week – my earliest ones after leaving the Followers of Christ in Oregon City – were the most difficult and confusing, as I judged them through the lens of my FOC experiences. But as I got into a habit of reading scripture for myself (rather than relying on my memories of what other people told me), and began to ask important questions and actually listen with an open mind, the more I began to see that there were true believers everywhere I went - but I was not yet one of them.