How I almost became a saint

September 11, 2008

It was time for dinner with my parents, and I had something important to tell them.

“I’ve decided to join the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” I said. “The baptism will be on Saturday.”

My parents’ response—furrowed eyebrows and a palpable unease—was about what I expected from two products of devout Catholic upbringings. To my father, my decision wasn’t just foolhardy—it tossed off 12 years of expensive Catholic school education and a potential four more at Georgetown. (I was a senior in high school at the time.)

He demanded that I wait until after college to make my decision, or he would refuse to pay for my Georgetown education. My retort—that Georgetown has more to offer than just its Catholicism, and you guys aren’t even that Catholic, anyway—moved my father as much as a breeze would a mountainside.

I realize now that my parents’ financial backing was more of a luxury than an instrument of absolute mandate, but as a high school student who depended entirely on his parents’ monetary support, I didn’t think I could live without it. I wanted to go to Georgetown so much it hurt, and I certainly didn’t want this difference of opinion to divide the family. I chose to wait.

The Mormon missionaries who were teaching me at home in Phoenix thought it was a wise choice. Family comes first in the Church, after all, and they had faith I would convert once the situation improved. I never did, and I never will.

At the time I had very few gripes with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In fact, my original rationale for remaining Catholic (on my terms, not my parents’) was, basically, that I stood to lose a lot—good familial relations, a future with my Jewish girlfriend—by converting to a religion I wasn’t sure I believed in. My Mormon friends and missionaries had assured me that if I read the Book of Mormon and prayed to God on a regular basis, I would become aware of their religion’s divine inspiration. And so I read the entire Book of Mormon and prayed regularly for a sign pointing to its veracity. Nothing happened.

A wise person once said that love is not a feeling, it’s a decision. Similarly, one should not subject the decision of how to worship God to the caprice of human emotion. Many converts to Mormonism will tell you that the religion just “felt” right; having witnessed the loving, family-oriented atmosphere the Church promotes and handily achieves, I can hardly blame these people for feeling so. But, for me, it’s not enough.

Every time I remember the warm feeling the Church gave me, I recall two things that instantly vanquish any lingering desire I may have to convert. The first relates to the Church’s teachings, boiling down to what I view as Mormonism’s contradiction of the Bible and dubious (if not flat-out disproved) historical claims.

I have neither the time nor the desire to engage in polemics here, so I will move on to my second main point of contention: the Church functions as a tightly-knit, self-monitoring apparatus to the point of being downright invasive. Since deciding that I no longer wished to be a part of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I have received over a dozen phone calls from missionaries and Church leaders, asking if I would like to come to service on Sunday or meet for a lesson. Each time I reiterate that I am no longer interested in joining the Church. Each time I get another call a couple months later.

It bears noting that I hold the Mormons I know personally in the absolute highest regard; anyone with the discipline and pureness of heart of your run-of-the-mill Latter-day Saint is worthy of praise. The Mormon Church is a marvel of altruism and inspired volunteerism, and there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with that. Still, as far as I know, I am in a Church Excel document under “possible converts,” and that makes me more than a little uneasy.

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