France, August 15, ’95—When a person is baptised, one who holds the Melchizedek Priesthood confirms them a member of the Church and gives ‘the gift of the Holy Ghost’—for comfort and guidance. On the river bank, Elder Larson—whom I had chosen for this part—laid hands on me, and the other team of missionaries joined in to assist, putting their hands on my head too.
3—Becoming a Mormon
4—The second part of my baptism in the LDS Church—the Gift Holy Ghost. And a gift from the Muslim friend who was the victim of French Secularism who made me a defender of religious freedom.
Elder Larson called me by my full name and said: “By the authority of the Melchizedek Priesthood, I confirm you a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and I say to you, receive the Holy Ghost.” He then gave me a blessing—which is whatever words prompted by the Spirit that come out of a Priesthood holder’s mouth in his own words for the benefit the person receiving it—and closed in the name of Jesus Christ.
Then I gave a little speech. I was full of the Spirit and don’t remember what I said apart that I was so thankful and promised to defend God’s name. And that is something I’m proud to say I never failed to do. Someone nodded. A member made a speech too: “If God is on your side when everyone else is against you, you will be a majority.” I’d soon visit his house regularly and become friends with his daughters. 20 years later he’d attend my grandmother’s funeral.
Maybe this is why I have been a fierce defender of religious freedom to this day—even when that conflicts with LGBT ‘rights’.
The closing prayer was given by a sister—as we call female members. I understand she still is a pillar of the ward—the local congregation. She was devoted, learned and fun. I’d visit her often over the years. She gave thanks to God for “giving me” to them. When we drove back to town my mother said she felt uneasy at that part, because I was hers, “not the Mormons.” I rolled my eyes. But I felt the Spirit burning inside of me. I was now baptised and a confirmed member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. And I was darn proud of it!
Before we got in the cars, Elder Garant and Elder Larson had given me a black leather cover Mormon set of Scriptures in French, composed of three of the ‘standard works’. There is no Mormon edition of the Bible like in the English world. I have used an English set for a long time now but I treasure my French triptique.
Another gift, unrelated, was my first trip to the U.S. a few days later. It was also my first time on a plane. I had dreamed of America since I was a child and these four nights in New York City was a combined birthday/Christmas gift from my mother—who came with me—and my grandmother.
New York was everything I had ever imagined, and so much more. In fact, ‘more’ was the word to describe that city—more noises, more smells, more people, more stories to buildings, more food on your plate. The pace was 70 times what I was accustomed to in my sleepy hometown. It was all so fascinating and a little scary. I remember my legs shaking at the feet of one of the twin towers at the World Trade Center—more impressive than anything I had ever seen. “I am in the centre of the world,” I thought.
On Sunday, my first Sabbath as a member, we walked by the LDS Church, south of Central Park, near the Columbus statue (I think). That was the first time I stepped in a Mormon-owned building. It was nice, clean, with large paintings in heavy frames. Back home, in the ‘church apartment’ we had those as prints pinned on the notice board. That meeting house was such a busy place but so spiritual too. We met a very nice family who originally came from South America. My English wasn’t so good but I was suddenly fluent and I remember wondering if it was because of the gift of the Holy Ghost.
My mother didn’t speak English but she patiently waited. After we came back home, she said I was lucky she was tolerant of my joining the Mormon Church. My Muslim friend was not so lucky. Her family had forced to give back all the Mormon books and pamphlets she had and she was now forbidden to see the Mormons again—and that included me.
I can understand that was a shock for them. During our senior year in high school, she had decided to wear the hijab, which was uncommon in those days. It did not bother me in the slightest. But France is secular to the extreme and does not allow religious symbols in state schools. I was horrified when the teacher gave her the option to remove her hijab or to leave the classroom. After a few seconds that felt like ten minutes, my friend stood up quiet and dignified, picked up her books and her bag, then walked out of that Philosophy class she loved. I felt a deep sense of injustice. Maybe this is why I have been a fierce defender of religious freedom to this day—even when that conflicts with LGBT ‘rights’.
I guess I just knew this was going to be a difficult road: I was ‘one of those boys’.
The support of the Catholic Church to the Monarchy during the French Revolution made religion anti-Republican from the start. Of course, the radicalisation of Islam and terrorist activities have become serious problems, and calling those denouncing extremism “Islamophobes” is not helping. Real efforts need to be made to make dialogue possible instead of exacerbating hate on one side and frustration on the other. However, religious freedom has a sinister record in France, and the persecutions of the Huguenots in centuries past, the discrimination against the Jews a few generations past and the intransigence towards Muslims today stand out as shameful episodes.
I believe in civil and religious liberty for all. What happened to my friend reinforced my feeling of being at odds with French society. And when I hear some of the criticism directed at Islam I know it could be directed at my religion too. Like Islam, Mormonism was revealed through a Prophet; both religions were born out of a necessity of denouncing the corruption of sacred teachings and making the real God known to all. And of course the French—while often having no issues with adultery—are outraged by polygamy.
My friend’s life and spiritual journey are her own to tell. She was amazing and still is a real example of goodness to me. I’ve never heard her say anything mean or judge anyone. Some people say terrible things to you, and you hardly care, because they don’t get you. But one old friend that you admire says something beautiful and encouraging when you start writing a new blog, showing they see the real you, and you could cry. That was her a few months ago and it was just another gift. I wish I had known I could confide in her back then. But I could not tell anyone. Not yet.
In my mother’s car heading back to town I had been thinking about one of the missionaries. While I was getting changed he joked, “Elder, don’t peak!” The dour-faced Canadian answered with disgust: “Hey, Elder! I am not one of those boys!”
I had chosen Abide with Me ¹ to close the ‘baptism meeting’. It’s a somewhat sad hymn and someone said, “that was a strange choice.” I guess I just knew this was going to be a difficult road: I was ‘one of those boys’.
A new series of posts about (my time in) the LDS Church starting on Thursday, August 16.