Today marks my 25th anniversary as a Mormon. Saturday, August 15, 1995 was the day I became a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. ¹
7—Reflections on some anniversaries
3—Saturday, August 15, 1995 and Saturday, August 15, 2020. An LDS Mormon then and a Mormon Fundamentalist now. I am proud to be a Mormon and I am glad I finally don’t miss the LDS anymore.
I believe I actually became a Mormon the previous month, the day I received a powerful testimony of the eternal Gospel restored through the Prophet Joseph Smith. ² My baptism and confirmation as a member of the LDS Church 25 years ago today were in fact a technicality—albeit a wonderful and essential one.
My excommunication in the summer of 2000 took away my Church membership. It did not take away my faith and it did not shatter my testimony. I was a member for 5 years—a fifth of my time as a Mormon. Some people insist only LDS members are Mormons. Some people also refuse to accept that Mormons as Christians. I suppose it all comes down to the meaning we attach to the terms.
The Mormon label can be deceptive too. It was was originally a nickname used to mock those who believed in Joseph Smith’s “new Bible.” But LDS leaders made the term their own quite early on, and by the mid-20th Century started to insist it belonged to the Church and nobody else. The Church grew incensed when Fundamentalists used the M word. It was the LDS leadership who coined ‘Mormon Fundamentalists’, but that was before they decided to trademark the M word.
Now are now witnessing a massive U-turn: the LDS Church no longer wants to be known as ‘Mormon’. In fact, they want to remove any mention of the term and have already rebranded the world-renown Mormon Tabernacle Choir as The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square, as well as several of their websites.
I believe in the Gospel as much as I did back in August 1995. My knowledge, my understanding and some of my interpretations have changed—and hopefully improved—but my faith remains. I accept the ministry of Joseph Smith and the divinity of the Book of Mormon as well as the revelations and teachings of the Prophet and the early leaders. I am a Mormon and I don’t care whether or not some people think I am not a Mormon or if they think I should not use that word.
Many LDS are keen on being seen as all-Christian, but not me. Following my excommunication in 2000, I went back to what I knew before. Because I was a convert, my excommunication did not throw me into a spiritual vacuum. I prayed and read my Scriptures (and sometimes fasted) and I worshipped on my own. I spent money on a good Bible Commentary that I still use and sometimes listened to Christian music. But something was not right: when I talked with Christian friends, or when I listened to that music, it was often plain to me that I was not a Christian. I was a Mormon.
Big Love made me realise that it was possible to be a full-fledged Mormon without being a member of the Church.
I bought Jewish literature and studied the Gnostic Gospels—revelling in the similarities with Mormonism in an effort to go back to the bloodline of my religion. I created my own worship and my own approach. There was a sense of freedom I had never experienced before. I ordered Mormon literature from the States and read a lot of material on the internet. But it’s when I discovered Big Love in 2006 that it hit me how much I missed the Church. In one episode a lead character gets baptised in the family pool and I cried for hours. It was as if I was terribly homesick.
The plus side was that the HBO’s series made me realise that it was possible to be a full-fledged Mormon without being a member of the Church. That was a revelation for me! I joined Yahoo message boards to read about Fundamentalists and learn of them. I ordered more books and remembered how much I enjoyed deep doctrine and sermons of Brigham Young when I was an LDS member. The old hymns had always been my favourite too. That interest had been there right from the start and I felt like I was reclaiming my religion.
However, I figured that radical Mormons with plural wives had nothing to offer to a man who had been excommunicated from the LDS Church for being gay. So, I decided to keep exploring and encountered a movement called ‘Reform Mormonism’. That budding online community designed ordinances to go with their philosophy: the amazingly radical doctrines of Joseph Smith in the Nauvoo era. They called them ‘Classical Mormonism’, which had a better ring to it than ‘Fundamentalist Mormonism’.
Reform Mormons did not shy away from those teachings the LDS were now trying to conceal. Au contraire, they embraced them. At the same time, they were very progressive. I felt like I had found my new spiritual home! I became very involved with their discussion board and their Sunday School online classes. I was willing to disseminate that new brand of faith that resonated in me so deeply but was disappointed when it became obvious their movement would never be anything but an internet Church.
Meanwhile I went back to Utah. It was in 2009, ten years after my last visit. I went on a Mormon trail from Arizona to Salt Lake City, buying lots of books in specialised bookstores along the way, contemplating the St George’s Temple and reading The Essential Brigham Young in the gardens of the Winter House. I then found myself in the middle of a Fundamentalist gathering in SLC by chance—unless it was providence since this is when I received a new testimony.
If my first testimony in the summer of 1995 had filled me with joy, this one scared me a little. It was a time when everything seemed to be going well for me: I felt secure in my sexual orientation and I had a healthy spiritual life. I had reconnected with the Larsons (my missionary and his family) after 12 years and I was thoroughly enjoying my time in Salt Lake as a grown-up who no longer was in the closet.
I pondered a long time, sitting in Temple Square. I did not want to invalidate the last 10 years of my life. But I had to trust the Lord, and I went to Deseret Book to buy my first quad (Bible, Book of Mormon, Doctrine & Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price)—as I only had the Bible and a set of Mormon Scriptures in French. This was to mark that day and I carried it to Washington Square where the gathering had taken place. I sat on a bench near the place where I had received that new testimony I never asked for. I sat there a long time, considering the events of the day and thinking about my position.
Three years later I was re-baptised by a Fundamentalist in Arizona. I had been self-identifying as a Fundamentalist since Washington Square, but it was official now. I was determined not to enter any relationships again, but I did. I am lucky to have supportive friends in that community and I remain a Fundamentalist, even if some people would disagree.
Today the tricky part for me is being all alone in the U.K. So, thank God for technology! I had a few amazing chats with Fundamentalists in the U.S. over FaceTime or Zoom during lockdown. The LDS missionaries contacted me regularly too. They had my number from one of those times when I bumped into them in the street. I always tell them they’re wasting their time with me, but I guess they were at a loose end during lockdown, and I enjoyed talking to them.
Even if the LDS Church announced tonight that they now fully accepted gay people, I would not re-join.
I accepted the missionaries’ invitation to attend church meetings on Zoom. I recognised some faces from the few times I had tried to go to the meeting house since 2000. I had the feeling that I had not been missing much. I thought about that book an author shared with me: a novel called Nephi’s Courage. ³ That book depicts the Utah culture—especially the LDS culture—perfectly. It took me back there. Some of the characters reminded me of people I knew when I was trying to conform to the demands of the Church and its members. This novel is a poignant and heartfelt portrayal of anyone who wishes to hold on to their faith while acknowledging those homosexual feelings won’t simply go away.
I followed Nephi in his bittersweet world. I attended meetings and walked through the door of the LDS meetinghouse with him. I could see so many similarities with this young man torn between the Church that he loves and his sexual orientation. I didn’t know if I should laugh or cry. I was glad there was no Church bashing and that the author chose to show the beauty and flaws of both the Mormon and the LGBT communities. He did give me a new appreciation for what LGBT people have to put up with in Utah. I tend not to agree with anti-Mormon posts and progressive Twits, but I began to share their anger and pain.
Nephi loves his Church despite the impossible choice he is faced with, and the inevitable heartache. For many years something inside me missed the Church. Not that I would ever join again! Now that I was a Fundamentalist, even if the LDS Church issued an Official Declaration announcing that gay people are now fully accepted, I still would not join. But when I attended those online meetings, I realised I was done. Not just done attending, but done missing the Church at all!
Time has passed. I saw on Facebook that some of the missionaries I knew when I joined the Church now had children serving full-time missions. It hadn’t occurred to me. I am not rejecting those wonderful memories nor the LDS people that I love, but I am glad now to be finally rid of what was left of the nostalgia.
Today there is a Frenchman who’s asked me to baptise him as a ‘Mormon Fundamentalist’. That’s not exactly coming full circle. But maybe that’s a gift for my 25th anniversary.