Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Have I been duped?

Tap, tap, tap...Is this thing on?

I'm dusting off this old blog of mine, because I have another essay floating around in my head that needs an outlet.  Maybe there are more...I don't know.

First of all, let me say that I am writing my experience only.  I do not wish to negate or diminish anyone else's experiences, beliefs, doubts or concerns.  I do not wish to imply that I am right, so therefore, you must be wrong.  I only wish to give my perspective and my reasons for living the way I do.  I recognize that I am looking through one set of lenses--one paradigm--that might be different from yours, and that is just fine.  Will you try my lenses on for a minute or two and see what you see?  You might understand me--just one Mormon woman--better, and maybe it will be easier to understand how others could want to believe the same things I do.

Much has been said in the media as of late about Joseph Smith, as the LDS Church has published a couple of essays with historical information about his practice of plural marriage (polygamy).  Some people find this information to be disturbing and faith-shaking.  Others see it as proof that Joseph Smith was more than just a fraud.  There has always been much sentiment surrounding Joseph Smith, implying that he was a liar, an impostor and a charlatan, who duped a bunch of people into believing some crazy stories, making them willing to sacrifice everything to follow him.  It's nothing new.  He himself, early in his ministry, claimed that an angel told him at age 17 that his name "should be had for good and evil among all nations, kindreds, and tongues, or that it should be both good and evil spoken of among all people."  I think that's a pretty presumptuous thing for anyone to say about himself, let alone an uneducated farm kid in 1823.

In any case, when I do hear people speaking evil of Joseph Smith, sometimes I wonder if I have been duped.  How could an educated, intelligent woman such as myself believe such outlandish stories as he told?  In fact, I have asked myself many times if what has been presented to me from the LDS Church is the truth.  There have been many times when I haven't understood fully what I was taught, and there have been times when things have not sat well with me initially.  I have wondered if it has been worth it to live this religious life when it looks so very different from the lives of my friends outside the Church, and when it requires so very much of me.

Those are the times when I really take a good look what I have learned because of Joseph Smith and what he claimed to restore.  Those are the times when I not only ask myself what is true, but also when I go to God Himself in prayer and ask Him.  Are the things I am hearing just some good things, or are they actual truth with a capital T?  If I am to believe what Joseph Smith claims to have revealed (and by extension, what the Book of Mormon and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teach), then I have been taught (or duped) to internalize the following unique doctrines, which are by no means a comprehensive list:

God is the father of every single person on this earth.  He is the actual father of our spirits and creator of our bodies.  I am a daughter of God, created in His image--meaning I look like Him.  So are you.  Well, you might actually be a son, if you are a boy, but you know what I mean.  When I pray, I am talking to an actual living being.  He will answer me.

Because He is our father, every single person on the earth is my actual, spiritual brother or sister, regardless of race, ethnicity or religion, or anything else that might make us different.

The worth of souls--each and every soul--is great in the sight of God.  He loves us and knows each one of us by name.  God wants to reward us as much as possible.  He does not wish to punish us as much as possible.  God wants us to have joy.  His greatest glory is to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.  Every person matters to Him--even those who break His commandments or who don't believe He exists at all.

The heavens are not closed.

My body is a gift.  It is not a curse or something to hope to escape.  Adam and Eve did not ruin the entire plan for the earth.  They actually helped to set the plan in motion by opening the door for choice between good and evil to be a part of our earthly existence.  As a daughter of God, I have as much worth as His sons.  Women are not cursed or less-than because of Eve's choice.

Not only did Jesus Christ pay the debt for our sins, He also bore our griefs, heartaches, sicknesses and everything we experience that is unfair or painful.  His suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane was as much a part of our redemption as was His death on the cross.  His resurrection opened the door for all of us to be resurrected--meaning our spirits and our bodies will be eternally reunited.  Every single last one of us--good, bad or in-between.

God will not force anyone to follow Him.  Everyone has freedom of choice.  His gospel should not be forced upon anyone.  God is fair and merciful, and everyone will have the opportunity to learn about Jesus Christ and decide whether to accept or reject Him.  Those many billions of people who have lived on the earth without any knowledge of a Savior are not automatically sent to hell.  People who belong to the "wrong" religion will not automatically be sent to hell.  Little children who die without being baptized are saved in the kingdom of God.  Little children don't need to be baptized at all, until they are old enough to understand, because baptism is a desired result of repentance, which requires the ability to choose and be accountable.

The Book of Mormon clarifies the Old Testament and explains how and why the House of Israel will literally be gathered in the last days.  Anti-Semitism has no place in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ's church should bear His name.

I know exactly who I am.  I know where I came from--we all lived with God before we were born.  I know why I am here on earth--we are all here to be tested and tried, to use our God-given power to choose to return to Him.  I know what happens after we die--our spirits return to God, and eventually, our spirits will reunite with our bodies forever.  We will have the opportunity to live with our friends and families forever.

The gospel of Jesus Christ has been taught since the days of Adam.  Every Old Testament prophet testified of Christ.

I have the privilege, the right and the responsibility to find out for myself if these things are true.

I have tried my best to do so, time and time again.  And time and time again, I have felt peace in my heart and understanding in my mind, in quiet, sure ways that I cannot deny.

If I did not believe that Joseph Smith was called to be a prophet of God, I must divest myself of all of these things.  How do I go about doing that?  Where am I to turn?   When Jesus was teaching his disciples, and many people walked away because they didn't like what He said, He asked the twelve, "Will ye also go away?  Then Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life."

To whom shall I go?

So...what about Joseph Smith and this polygamy business?

What about it?  He's not the only person whom God commanded to marry more than one wife. Abraham, Jacob, Moses, David, Solomon...

If you knew for sure that God asked you to do something, would you do it?  Would it matter if it went against social mores?  Would it matter if you really didn't want to?  Would it matter if other people told you not to?

I'm still answering those questions for myself every single day.  What I do know is that God has often asked His prophets and His people to do extraordinarily difficult and seemingly impossible things.  The thing itself doesn't really matter.  The willingness to obey does.

So Joseph Smith was commanded to marry more than one woman.  I don't understand everything about it, and that's okay.  I have known about it for many, many years.  It was never hidden from me, and I never felt it necessary to learn all of the details, because I understood the basic doctrine behind it.  What I do know is that he was a man who lived his entire life with the intent to serve God in the face of incredible hardships.  He boldly lived his entire adult life alongside people who were quite literally trying to kill him and his followers because of their beliefs.

Eventually they succeeded.

But so did Joseph Smith's work--because it really was the work of Jesus Christ, Himself.  If it weren't, it would've died with him, and ultimately, the fruits of Smith's labors would be very bad, and yet they are not.

What happens when I learn information that might be troubling to me?

I remember what I already know.  I remember that God spoke peace to my mind and heart before, and He can do it again.  I remember that I can't see everything, but God can.  I remember this quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson:
"All I have seen teaches me to trust the Creator for all I have not seen."

Learning truth (with a capital T) is like putting together a beautiful puzzle.  Sometimes we are able to see the picture quite clearly, and it goes together easily.  Other times, there are pieces that just don't seem to fit--but we are sure they came out of the same box.  Instead of discarding everything we have built, we lay those pieces aside for a while until something connects--until the picture becomes clearer.  One day it will.

I am grateful to know that I can ask God for peace when I don't understand.  Ultimately, this peace is the very reason I happily remain a practicing member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

 So have I been duped?  Nope.  I know for myself, because I have asked God.  And it really is worth it.