Learning from an “Honorary” Mormon

Years ago Andrew Bowen was an Evangelical Christian with very set beliefs. Anyone who didn’t share his faith were both going to hell and worthy of contempt. No one deserved his and God’s wrath more than Mormons. whenever Mormon missionaries came near he would curse and yell at them, chasing the bike riders away. It was a scene from the Mormon past made contemporary.

His wife became pregnant and they expected the start of a wonderful life with the new child. Surely God was blessing him for faithfulness to the Lord. Then tragedy struck. Not only did they lose the child, but in a way that his faith taught him should never be chosen; abortion. If they didn’t do it then both mother and child would die. There was no way around it and the experience crushed all his faith.

Grappling with personal and spiritual loss, he decided to research religion for at least one year. His method was to pick a faith for a month and completely immerse himself in the traditions and teachings. He became a self-described “honorary” member of whatever he picked for the month with the help of an inside mentor.

Having already been a Jew and Hindu, among other faiths, his next step was the biggest so far. Taking up the courage to repent of his abuses he “became” a Mormon. As it happened he picked July, although it doesn’t appear he completely realized in its entirety how important a month for Mormon culture. He understood Pioneer Day as a religious holiday, but he never mentioned July 4th with spiritual significance. There are at least a few things a Mormon can learn from what he wrote.

Missionary work isn’t and shouldn’t be about baptisms, but love. He stated that no other religion had proselytized for him to join so hard. At first he was annoyed, but then what one of the missionaries said changed that attitude. The young Elder expressed that he loved him and wanted to share the Gospel because of that love:

Congregation, at that moment it was like the entire reality of these two men opened before me. I felt a love and sincerity that I rarely experience from a teacher. At that point I understood their faith and why they are on missions. Sometimes I wondered why they devoted so much time to me even though they know I’m leaving at the end of the month . . .

That is the love of a missionary–of my Mentors–and through studying the life of Christ, it was also the love and devotion he shared while among mankind. He knew they would reject him, but he came, taught, and offered his life anyway.

Reaching out as friends, neighbors, and with an open heart is far more important than soliciting conversion. If the Lord is ready for them and they are ready for the Lord, surely it will come naturally. Be an example of a believer and less of a preacher.

The key to love is repentance and forgiveness, and that requires letting go of pride. He wondered if the Mormon community would treat him with suspicion and perhaps anger. Like Saul who became Paul, his persecution came from what he understood at the time to be a true struggle against wickedness. What he found was a people who were quick to embrace and treat him with kindness. His first day “as a Mormon” he had anger once again boiling up against his family, and quickly realized the damage:

How often do we find ourselves on a spiritual high, when the world is ripe and ready for our pleasure, only for a storm to rain on our parade? . . .

If I am a Mormon, I must surrender.

But there is hope for me, because even in his lowest and most painful moments, when Jesus begged our Heavenly Father to take the bitter cup of death from his lips, he manned up and said,

“…not by my will, but yours [God’s].”

If Jesus had the guts to do God’s will, then I better suck it up, put aside my petty reservations on the particulars, and get down to business.

According to the text, Gospel Principles, the following steps result in the removal of sin:

Recognize our sins, Feel sorrow for our sins, Forsake our sins, Confess our sins, Make restitution, Forgive others, Keep the commandments of God.

In other words, swallow your pride.

Because of the love of the Lord for all, revelation is what we need and not always what we or others want. Andrew took the missionaries, and the temporary conversion, seriously and therefore prayed for answers as directed. The answer he got was both unexpected and not exactly conducive to joining the LDS Church:

Yes, I’m ready to collapse. So I asked permission to. And just when I did, just when I finally surrendered Project Conversion to the powers that be, I got something in my spiritual inbox. It was that still, small, gentle tug on the heart and it felt exactly as the Elders said it would. It said:

“Good. Now keep going . . . only harder.”

Are you kidding me!?

Apparently not. Now, I’m not sure if that was God or just the greater good compelling me forward, but in the course of religious history, the divine has a way of ticking off/frustrating/challenging/driving nuts those he/she/it has plans for. I’m losing my mind, so I guess as long as I’m ready to pull my hair out then I’m doing okay. Let this be a comfort to all balding men. It’s not a bald spot, it’s confirmation I’m doing God’s will (not sure how that would work with the ladies).

It is sad for Mormons that he wouldn’t decide to join as a real member; he seemed the most impressed with Catholicism. That is life. Eternity is a long expanse and this is only a short time here in mortality. Joseph Smith once said that if he couldn’t persuade someone of the truth of Mormonism, then he sought to help them become a better person with what they do believe. We should rejoice in the spiritual happiness Andrew did find in the process. The whole of humanity is, after all, brothers and sisters who need to be shown love and respect from the lowest to the highest; even our enemies.

Becoming Brother Bowen, How to Fall. How to Rise, The Sabbath Day, Happy 4th of July, can be found here.

Who was Joseph Smith?, The Testimony of Sister Geddes, Between a Rock and a Hard Place, How to Restore a Gospel . . . can be found here.

Playing Chicken with the Missionaries, Interview with Arthur Hatton the Creator of Linescratchers, Chillin’ with the Family, The Word of Wisdom: An LDS Guide to Health, can be found here.

Reaching for Infinity, Headin’ to the Temple, Multiple Wives: A Divine Right?, Field Guide to Exploring Religion, can be found here.

Marriage In The Temple…Members Only, The Testimony of Sister Laura Bradbury, Wanted: U.S. President. Mormons Need Not Apply, For the Love of Missionaries, can be found here.

Pioneer Day: The Cost of Religious Freedom, Saying Goodbye to my LDS Home, Our Mother, Who Art In Heaven . . . , Latter-Day Saints: The Conclusion, can be found here.

10 thoughts on “Learning from an “Honorary” Mormon

  1. Andrew- What an inspiring story. You have taught me something new about my own faith. Thank you for that.

  2. Kind of reminds me of CS Lewis. But I have him on the brain right now. I have never figured out how to surrender.

  3. Brother Bowen, if I may still call you that, I am glad you stopped by here. Thank you for taking the month to really walk in Mormon shoes. So few people are willing to do more than scoff or reject our faith out of hand when all we ask is for our history, beliefs, and lives be shown common courtesy. hopefully you will return to this post because I would like to be bold enough to ask you a few questions about your experience.

    1. What did you learn from the Mormon month that you still spiritually use or have? What things really stuck with you?

    2. Assuming that you studied the life of Joseph Smith more or in a different way than you had before, what did you learn to respect about him (I assume from my own experience with those who don’t like Mormons you had previously never heard any good)? Maybe something you think others not of the Mormon faith should take seriously?

    3. Mormons tend to believe that there is good in all religions, but that rarely works in practice. Without going against Mormon practice and theology, what can a Mormon learn from others to enhance their own faith and spirituality? How can any person of exclusive faiths still best learn about and respect those religions that aren’t their own?

    Thank you in advance for answering. If you don’t, I still thank you for your posts. Oh, and my quip about not fully understanding the importance of July is about the special place in Mormonism for the founding of the United States. Its seen as divinely set up and not just secular.

  4. I think this is a wonderful thing, and that Mormons can also learn from. Too many of us think we cannot learn anything from other faiths. And we are wrong.

    We go to the Kirtland Temple and mock the Community of Christ for not turning it into a “real temple”, etc. If we were to open our hearts, we may find we can have spiritual insight and experience with our brothers in Christ, even if we do not agree on all things.

    I had the opportunity last Thursday to visit St Luke’s Catholic Church in Indianapolis, and speak to their men’s group about Mormonism, as they wanted to know more of what we believe in, prior to deciding to vote for Mitt Romney etc. I spent 2 hours talking with them, and had a wonderful time. I sought the beauty in their religion before going. I saw the “angels in the architecture, spinning in infinity, saying Amen and Hallelujah!”* I praised Mother Teresa for her great God-appointed work, and John Paul II for his God-appointed calling to help bring down the Iron Curtain.

    Our gathering was awesome, and we had a wonderful fellowship. I think their women’s group and others may invite us back, as well.

    Andrew has learned this important concept of surrendering to God, and allowing God to show him His truth, rather than making his own black and white set of rules/truths to live by. It isn’t easy for any of us to accept that we may not know as much as we think. And it isn’t easy to accept the concept that love and charity are more important than judgment.

    * song: “You can call me Al” by Paul Simon

  5. Jettboy,

    You may call me what you will, and it is a pleasure to answer your questions.

    1) More than anything, my month with the Latter-day Saints taught me about spiritual courage. Joseph Smith was a man, it seems, after God’s own heart. He was not interested in the constructs and religions of man, but the system of God himself. The Bible verse James 1:5, which spurs Smith’s quest, remains one of my personal meditative verses.

    2) I answered this one partially in the first question, however I believe that what Joseph Smith did, and at such a remarkably young age, implies at most a divine calling and at least a considerable degree of genius and conviction. The rapid growth and organization of the church was a testament to his talents and gifts even by modern standards and an appropriate model for any movement.

    3) Good question. My Mentors (the young Elder missionaries) taught me that there is truth in all faiths, however Christ exemplifies the culmination of truth found in every faith. Heavenly Father is not a cold tyrant who will eternally damn a good Hindu or Muslim who worshiped God and served man humbly, but will reward them with a measure of eternity befitting their deeds. Latter-day Saints can discover a vast treasure of faith-confirming truths within the faiths of others which will also strengthen their own understanding of Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ, and the restored church under the leadership and human stewardship of the living prophet and apostles of this dispensation.

    Yes, I remember reading about the July 4th from the LDS perspective. Forgive my exclusion of this information in the post. Thank again for featuring this story on your website.


    Brother Bowen

  6. Thank you again. In my contemplation of the last question, I think Mormons don’t learn as much as they should from other faiths because of historic antagonism. Ramiumptum’s positive experience is rare and usually ends with a toungue lashing of sorts. One of your responses to the missionaries was that way before you caught yourself pontificating rather than learning or discussing. Then again, we need to learn how to look past that and, as our own scriptures say, forgive all people. I have to admit Catholicism is one of my favorates for many of the reasons you listed. On the other hand, the LDS Temple experience covers some of those.

  7. Yes, that episode with the missionaries was regrettable, but it helped us heal some of my former tendencies. I enjoyed my time with the Latter-day Saints and Catholics because it showed me a side of Christianity I never experienced before while I was one. It was lovely, to say the least.

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