Friday, November 2, 2007

Letter to a Concerned Evangelical Friend

Recently I received the following letter from a dear friend, from another life-time.

Dear John!

It has been a while since we have written. Not much new here and we are fine. However I felt that I had to write as I learned of your decision to return to Mormonism. I am deeply saddened and confused by this. I will never forget your struggle and the pain you had and the joy you felt on leaving Mormonism. Those reasons are still there and the Holy Spirit would not lead you to such. I know this angers you that I speak such but I must speak. You KNOW that the Mormon faith is not real. Scripture speaks so clearly on this. Of course you must do what you must do but I will keep you in prayer that you would realize the severity of what you are doing. I am in tears, John, tears of frustration for such a beautiful soul as yourself. Do not deny your salvation and the promises you made to Jesus in your Christian baptism! You are in our prayers!

Mark


I wrote the following letter in response:

Dearest Mark:

Since your email, I've wanted to respond for some time in more depth, but have not really had the time to sit down and respond in the way I have wished until now.

I want to preface my comments by reiterating that your email did not anger me. Nor did it completely surprise me. You were a true friend to me at a point in my life when I was extremely vulnerable and in a lot of pain. When we first met, I had recently been suicidal, and it was literally life-saving to me that day when you assured me: “No matter what anyone tells you, never let anyone make you believe that anything can come between you and the love of God.” This assurance of yours is still a cornerstone of my life, and always will be.

For a time your parents became in a very real sense surrogate parents to me, when my decision to leave the Mormon Church caused a major breach between me and my own parents. Your mom and dad housed me, they loved me and reassured me, and they helped me get resettled at a time when I had literally lost everything and was all alone in the world. I still have – and wear with pride and happiness – the hand-knit sweater your mother made and gave me. I will never forget your parents' Christian kindness toward me.

Having said this, it is necessary for me to point out to you that you do not now, nor have you ever had any adequate understanding of Mormonism. I never challenged your misconceptions when I was in close contact with you because my unique circumstances at the time left me very vulnerable. It was indeed necessary for me to leave the LDS Church for a time. Some of the reasons you know well, and some you do not know so well. I want to clarify these reasons now so that there is no further misunderstanding.

At the time we first met, I was indeed laboring under the burden of “works righteousness.” But this was not a consequence of my Mormon faith or upbringing. It was the result of homophobic attitudes which are held in common by Mormons and Evangelical Christians alike. Most conservative Christians share the belief or the attitude that homosexuality is a sin, and that a gay person must “overcome” his homosexuality in order to be saved. Though believers of many stripes and persuasions are beginning to understand the falsehood in this attitude, it is still predominant in all conservative churches, Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox and Mormon. This attitude, which I had internalized, left me in a state of despair. It left me believing that I must perform the colossal work of becoming something I am not in order to be worthy of God's gift of salvation. In a word, works righteousness, whose end product is always despair.

I was saved from that despair once I came to internalize an understanding that Mormons and Evangelical Christians alike also share in common: the understanding that salvation is a gift of divine grace. That message of grace was clearly communicated to me by you, and by other Evangelical Christians in a way that I had found it difficult to accept in the faith of my upbringing. But this message, so beautifully, so uncompromisingly, so purely expressed in some of the great, classic formulations of Evangelical faith, was retracted by those same Evangelical Christians once they came to know that I was gay. Once I came to accept my gayness and live my life more openly as a gay man, suddenly Evangelicals were eager to correct my apparent misperception that salvation was an act of grace apprehended through faith. Instead, I needed to understand that if I wished to be saved, I needed to overcome or suppress or deny my sexuality.

I will always be grateful to Evangelicals for helping me clearly understand the nature of God's grace. Having received that gift, I will not relinquish it... to Evangelicals or to Mormons.

Shortly after we met, you invited me to view with you The Godmakers, a film that allegedly exposed “the truth” about Mormonism. This was a terrible film, packed with lies and extreme anti-Mormon propaganda. The film alleged, among other things, that Mormonism was secretly a Satanic cult, and that Satanic ritual was covertly embedded in the Mormon temple rituals. At the time that we met, I was in a fragile state of mind from my recent near suicide. I felt mortally wounded by the church of my upbringing, and felt neither able nor inclined to defend it, even against unreasonable attacks. I was also extremely vulnerable to the allegations about Satanic influence because for some time during my last year at BYU I had in fact been tormented by panic attacks and by nightmares of Satanic possession. Unfortunately, the Satanic “attacks” and experiences continued for some time after I left the Mormon Church and became an Evangelical Christian. They finally came to an end only once I came to accept myself fully and unequivocally as a gay man.

I believe that it was extreme homophobia – both in the Mormon and in the Evangelical Christian communities – that left me vulnerable to the Satanic torment I experienced. A book that helped me gain some perspective on this is a book I would recommend to anyone exploring some of the roots of Christian homophobia: Sexuality and the Devil: Symbols of Love, Power and Fear in Male Psychology, by Dr. Edward J. Tejirian. I believe in Satan. I believe he is a real being who has real power in this world, and whose goal is to separate us from God and make us unhappy. I believe Satan makes masterful use of lies and fear tactics to pursue that agenda. Having come to accept and love myself as a gay man has enabled me to experience the love of God more fully than I ever have in my life, and that perfect love has cast out all fear. My self-understanding and self-love – true self-love which is based on an understanding of who I am and what my relationship to God is – has enabled me to fully appreciate and accept the efficacy of Christ's atonement in my life and to grow into the full stature of God's creation in me.

Telling lies about the LDS Church and promoting fear of Mormons and Mormonism – as the film The Godmakers did – is a tactic of Satan. I am fortunately now strong enough emotionally, psychologically and spiritually to recognize those tactics for what they are and to unequivocally reject them.

Let me now tell you a little about what Mormonism means to me, and why I feel drawn back to the LDS faith as I have matured spiritually as a Christian. Mormons believe in modern day revelation. This means we believe that God still speaks to and guides human beings. We believe that the Holy Spirit is alive and active in the world today, and we believe in all the gifts of the Spirit, including the gift of prophecy, and the ability to receive modern-day scripture, which is why we have the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price. Anyone who is skeptical about the congruity between LDS scriptures and the Bible is free to read and judge for themselves.

As a natural extension of our belief in modern-day revelation, we also believe that every human being is entitled to personal revelation and guidance. The testimony of Jesus is the Spirit of Prophecy. We seek a witness of the Holy Spirit to strengthen our faith in Christ's atonement. But we also believe that if we listen, the Spirit will lead us and help us to make every major important decision in our lives. I have experienced the presence of the Spirit in my life, reassuring me of God's love for me, and testifying that Christ lives.

I know that Christ lives. Thanks to his atonement – which is a free gift to me and to all who turn to him in faith – I have new life and am a new being. Each day, I strive to “put on Christ” by living more and more like he lived when he was on the earth. I am not – I cannot be – saved through these efforts to sanctify my life. I cannot, nor will I ever be able to, earn or be worthy of the gift of salvation that has come to me through the atonement. I am and always will be a beggar in relation to God, a beggar who is utterly and completely dependent on the infinite, eternal love that God has given me through Christ's sacrifice for me. That is the heart of my faith, and it is the heart of the faith of millions of other Latter-day Saints. While LDS have distinctive beliefs about scripture, modern revelation, Church organization and priesthood authority, we share this faith in Christ with millions of other Christians. You need have no fear or concern for me or for my salvation on this account.

I have experienced the healing touch of Christ in my life. I consider myself a witness of him. My love for my partner, my love for my family, my love for all those who are my friends and neighbors, is a natural extension of this love that God has poured out on me so abundantly.

I am grateful for you and I love you, and I always have. Be at peace. Do not be afraid for my soul. If you feel so inclined, if you think I am lost, pray for me. Pray whatever you wish for me, because I trust the God who answers those prayers.

I am (still) your brother in Christ,

John

4 comments:

playasinmar said...

Has Mark replied?

J G-W said...

Not yet.

GeckoMan said...

John,
I thought this to be a very eloquent defense of Mormonism and accurate explanation of our true faith in the atonement of Jesus Christ. However, knowing your story somewhat, I wondered why you did not add the personal reason for your return to the Church, that is, your call from the Spirit?

J G-W said...

Actually, I'm letting you in on the tail end of a longer email discussion. I discussed that aspect of my journey earlier. Mark mentioned this in his email, when he said, "The Holy Spirit would not lead you to such."