Over several months so I have had a born-again sort of experience of sorts– one of those times in life where perspective shifts dramatically and you feel like you are seeing the world for the first time. One of the biggest difficulties in experience was recognizing that I had lost faith in the LDS Church. It has been coming for quite a while, and it feels like the core meaning of my life was yanked from me. Losing faith has been very difficult for me even to acknowledge. But for complex reasons, I can’t now honestly claim to believe in the Mormon Church and this reality has stung me hard. My participation in this blog has been a big part of the process of figuring out where I am and what to do next.
Over the years the blog has been a place for me to vent a lot of the deep thoughts and patent nonsense that bubbled up during this process. (Regulars here will recognize I write far more of the latter than the former.) But lately I have been thinking about what attracted me to this blog– and how it might help me in the new spiritual life that I face.
Me & the Evangelicals: I grew up in Kansas, on the edge of the Bible Belt, but knew hardly anybody who was a believing Evangelical christian in the way that I was a believing Mormon. I can only remember one kid who was a preacher’s kid who seemed as into his church as I was mine. I was a missionary in Southern California. When I was called, I was really bummed that I had to go stateside and English speaking. But looking back it was really a great time. Lots of people to talk to, fantastic weather, and all kinds of cultures and religions, and no language to hassle with. But one thing that being a missionary here did was sour me to Evangelical Christians. I spoke with hundreds of them about religion, and even baptized a few of them. For the most part, I was not particularly impressed with their religion. To a dyed-in-the-wool Mormon, they had strange theology, a weird emphasis being saved, were overly political and prayed funny. But what really turned me off was–of course– the anti-Mormon element among many Evangelical groups. I had many many lovely conversations with Evangelicals when they really opened up about their faith in their lives, but some of the most wacky, intense situations I had on my mission were with Evangelicals who seemed both afraid and aggressive toward me. I felt this sort of off-putting fear in various degrees from most Evangelicals. My fellow missionaries and myself would often mock or deride “born-agains” for their weird behavior and absurd biblical interpretations and theology. They were easily and happily dismissed. (Yes, I see the irony.)
So from my more mature Mormon perspective, Tim– the owner of the blog–appeared a refreshing difference. Over the years I came to find out that he is an articulate, passionate, reasoned believer who takes his religion extremely seriously yet has a lot of tolerance and a good sense of humor. I think his personal life demonstrates he has a real commitment to living as a Christian. I have met the man, and he carries a really good spirit with him. Even though I don’t accept his theology, he strikes me an admirable disciple of the sort of Christian love that I really do believe in. And he didn’t seem that afraid of Mormons. (For all I know most devout evangelicals are like Tim, I just wasn’t interested in getting to know them on their terms.) He definitely seems to be against the Church, but genuinely seems to care about showing Mormons something that is demonstrably precious to his life. I think this puts him on about the same level as I was as a missionary. This made the discussion interesting and engaging.
And I think the discussion is important, even though I’m a non-believer in any recognized form of Christianity. There are things that you can learn from believers that skepticism can’t teach you. And its easier to be skeptical of words than a hug or a handshake. I’m a lawyer who studied philosophy; I can pick apart arguments, but its harder to argue with tangible Christianity in life.
So from my new perspective–that of person seeking a new way to engage in Christianity–I think that the Mormon/Evangelical discussion may be a way to discover how Christianity is working for different believers. As my Mormon bias sheds away, I am much more interested in how each individual’s chosen brand of Christianity helps them to be better disciples of Jesus– how it transforms them or helps them transform themselves– even if they happen to be Mormon or Evangelical. I think that the Mormons and Evangelicals here may have something to teach me– and each other— if they can look past the that I don’t/can’t seem to believe their theology and share in concrete terms what the Spirit is doing in their lives to make them better Christians.
So, for those that care to share: What advice can you give to someone like me– who is probably not interested in adopting your particular theology (no matter how correct you think it is) but wants to know what gives you the ability to love deeper and wider? How does your surrender/devotion/prayer/faith/theology help you love others better even when it might be painful, uncomfortable, or inconvenient? .