2016-06-30
The Church is obviously blessed with converts. They account for so much of the Mormonism's growth around the globe in recent years, and the Church said in 1997 that two-thirds of its members were converts.

Converts bring enthusiasm, optimism, and energy to the Mormon experience. Those who were committed to their previous religious traditions contribute scholarship, fresh vocabulary, and a lifelong experience with the Spirit working in their lives. Aglow with conviction, they come with the expectation that they will find what has been promised--nothing less than the Kingdom of God on earth. Do they find it?

Why I Like Being a Latter-Day Saint
Beliefnet members discuss what they love about their faith.

PLUS: Join the discussion. I recently had a chance to talk to people with strong previous affiliations who have been Mormon for at least two years (some as long as 30). The answers were revealing.

"I feel enveloped in a marvelous new community--definitely a 'fellowship of the saints,' says one woman, a Mormon for more than 25 years. "I love the varied activities, the care and concern for the youth, the 24/7 mentality about spirituality. I had that in my previous church experience, and I'm delighted to see it alive and well here too. I don't technically share the pioneer heritage, but I feel adopted into it as a pioneer of my own sort."

When asked if she notices any cultural differences, she admits she does. "Sometimes, in America anyway, there's a political conservatism that overlaps the church experience. I can't speak to the experience in other countries. I found that a little surprising given that Utah [where the church has its headquarters] was one of the first states to grant women the vote. While I do feel some cultural reluctance to take women's teaching as authoritatively as men's, I've seen some progress in this over the years. As we learn more about following what the Spirit teaches us, the gender of the person communicating it doesn't matter."

Another convert, a theological-studies student, has studied the sacred scriptures of many traditions. "I really believe God preserved and inspired the Book of Mormon in ways unique among other volumes of sacred texts. I enjoy finding intellectual support for the Book of Mormon claims, but my feelings toward it are based on something much more personal. I have had my own private religious experiences with that book. The Christ-centeredness of the Book of Mormon is startling."

However, this convert recalls bringing up a question in the new members' Sunday school class about the Book of Mormon's version of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew. The teacher passed over her scriptural scholarship, instructing her to limit her studies to LDS scriptorians. "The teacher's anxiety confused me," she said. "If something is true, there is nothing to be afraid of. Not being afraid of learning from other sources is what got me into the Mormon Church in the first place."

Why I Like Being a Latter-Day Saint
Beliefnet members discuss what they love about their faith.

PLUS: Join the discussion. A longtime convert from a Protestant tradition who also has a background in psychology expresses some of her views. "The Restored Gospel taught in the Church of Jesus Christ is beautiful and expansive. I had a powerful experience convincing me that God wanted me here. That power was almost tangible. It was the 'realest,' 'true-est' thing I've ever experienced."

That commitment carries her through some quibbles she has with sermons. "I worry that the beauty and expansiveness can get muzzled with too many talks on obedience, duty, and 'be ye therefore perfect' themes. I have seen people in psychological trouble trying to please disapproving, perfectionist parents. I have seen the same phenomenon with people in the church trying to please God or the prophet or the vague but powerful entity called 'the Church.' Often these people just leave. The pressure is too great. None of us is capable of perfect obedience, but Christ has provided himself on our behalf. That is clearly the message of the atonement."

Another sister with Pentecostal roots laughs when she recalls the reaction some of her friends had when they heard she had become a Mormon. "They thought I was nuts. I told them nobody joins a church because they think it's the wrong one. I think this is the right one, and I'm staying!

"It's a different kind of experience being Mormon--still Christian, but like in another language. Some things I loved from before just haven't gotten translated yet," she says with a laugh.

 

One thing she misses is the exuberant music that was part of her previous worship experience. Mormon worship services include hymn singing and musical numbers, but this woman describes the tone as "sedate." "There is something full-bodied about worship where you're really singing out loud, where you can shout 'Amen!' I go to the Mormon Church now and wonder when these folks are going to kick out the jams and really do some singing! But I have a good time, and I think I'm loosening them up."

Why I Like Being a Latter-Day Saint
Beliefnet members discuss what they love about their faith.

PLUS: Join the discussion. Converts make other adjustments--getting used to having children in the worship service, the three-hour block of time, the nomenclature of Mormonism. Some miss the responsive readings of Protestant backgrounds, the kneeling and communal prayers of Catholic traditions. Some find taking the sacrament weekly startlingly frequent. Some find having water instead of wine or grape juice a surprise. Nobody seems to mind not having a collection plate passed, though of course the little gray envelopes for private donations and tithing payments are in every foyer.

So, do converts find the Kingdom of God on earth? "Some do; some don't," admits one woman. "But finding it here is not really the point. Building it here is the point to me. I have close friends who felt the church in its 21st-century incarnation was not a good fit, and they decided to leave. This breaks my heart, because I need them. For me, I'll be staying. I honestly believe Jesus wants me to be here and that his authority is here. I have made promises to do everything I can to build up the kingdom of God on Earth. I love that part--that we all have a say in its building. Maybe we're all just serfs right now, learning how to serve the King."


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