The LDS missionaries stopped by my apartment the other night. They were the Chinese-speaking missionaries, the only ones who have ever stopped by my apartment, apparently because a couple years ago I had a Chinese neighbor who had joined the LDS Church. One was American and remembered me from the last time he knocked on my door. The other was from Hong Kong, hadn't yet mastered English, and didn't talk much. I told them I was no longer LDS, but I still let them come in and try to convince me to come back because I want them to have positive experiences on their missions. I have no animosity toward these kids doing what they believe is right, and I want everyone everywhere to be nice to them. I could have wiped the floor with them in a debate, but because I didn't want to send them into crippling existential crises, I was vague about my reasons for leaving and didn't push back much on the stuff they said. I especially didn't want to expose the Chinese guy to a bunch of problematic stuff that he'd probably never heard of due to having far LDS-adjacent fewer resources in his native language.
The American said he knows there are a lot of difficult issues in church history, and he named a few - the Book of Abraham translation, polygamy, and the priesthood ban. He probably learned about those things in seminary. I certainly didn't. When I was his age, the LDS Church was just barely starting to be more honest about its history as damage control after the skeletons in its closet were plastered all over the internet, which is how I had to learn about them. The seminary curriculum was dumbed down so much that even as an all-in gung-ho believer, I hated it and didn't finish. And, of course, even though this missionary knows these things, he sure isn't going to teach them to prospective converts. Anyway, I could have wiped the floor with him in a debate on any of these topics if I'd wanted to. I'm positive I know all the same apologetic arguments that he does. But we didn't go in that direction. He only lingered on the priesthood ban, mentioning that Joseph Smith gave the priesthood to Black men, and then that practice just stopped, and it's weird. I could have said that we know why it stopped, that it stopped because Joseph Smith's successor was virulently racist and enshrined his virulent racism in both church doctrine and policy, which really decimates the credibility of all LDS prophets, but I nodded politely instead.
He asked what it would take for me to come back to the church. Again, I held back. Believing in the LDS Church again would be like putting all the toothpaste back in a tube. I would have to forget that I know it's not true. I would have to pretend I can't see Joseph Smith's nineteenth-century fingerprints all over the Book of Mormon, or his manipulative tactics to increase his authority, blame others for his prophetic failures, and persuade teenage girls to marry him. In short, I simply know too much to believe. But I didn't want to say something so invalidating. It's not polite. I told him I'd come back if I heard a voice or saw an angel. I said I know the church specifically tells us not to demand miraculous signs like that, but I don't trust "the Holy Ghost" anymore or believe that my spiritual feelings really mean what the church claims they mean, so I'm going to need something more. They read some scriptures. The Chinese guy talked about the importance of trusting God with my questions instead of people, and approaching them with a perspective of faith. I nodded politely instead of complaining about confirmation bias.
They asked about my views on God and Jesus. I said that I don't feel like God ever intervenes in my life, and I still pray every night, but I've given up on asking for anything because it's pointless. I said that I used to look back and feel like God had been guiding me through my life, but now I wonder if that's just because I'm a human and my brain has evolved to see patterns where there aren't any. I said that I think I have a pretty good life, but I'm not comfortable attributing that to blessings from God because what about the countless people with crappy lives? Does he love them less? The Chinese guy said it's important to keep the perspective of the premortal life and the next life, to remember that not all blessings come in this life. And you know what, that makes sense. I do believe there's a purpose to life and that whatever it is can only make sense if it starts before birth and goes beyond death. That's one thing I think Joseph Smith got right. I certainly don't believe the specific details taught by his church, though. And I don't think it's possible to know the details without dying. Maybe not even then.
The American encouraged me to pray and ask God if he loves me. Not if the LDS Church was true. I was glad that he wasn't really pushy about me coming back. He seemed to genuinely respect my personal journey and prioritize God's love over being in a specific church. He encouraged me to ask that and pay attention to whether I felt anything or to what happened the next day, and if I didn't notice anything, to be patient and not give up. I could have argued that in my view, if you have to keep praying and waiting until you feel something, you've probably just convinced yourself to feel it. But I didn't. And that night, I did ask, and I didn't feel anything, just like I knew I wouldn't. And the next day was a good day, but I wouldn't say anything special happened. Oh well. I certainly would like to believe that God loves everybody. I don't claim to know that he doesn't. I just don't see it. As the missionaries left, the American asked if I would like to go to church this Sunday, and I said I'm participating in the Unitarian Universalist church right now, and he said that was good and didn't press the issue.
Believing in the LDS Church again is out of the question, but here's the bare minimum that it would have to do in order for me to participate:
* End all policy restrictions on LGBT members.
* End all policy restrictions on women.
* Stop hoarding obscene wealth and start spending a lot more on humanitarian aid.
* Stop protecting sexual abusers and fighting against their victims in court.
* Stop lying about its history and finances.
* Stop worshiping the current prophet and pretending that every word out of his mouth comes from God.
* Apologize and make restitution for the harm it's caused to people of color, LGBT people, women, abuse victims, and apostates.
I have no doubt that all of these things will happen eventually, but probably not in my lifetime.
"Guys. Chris's blog is the stuff of legends. If you’re ever looking for a good read, check this out!"
- Amelia Whitlock
"I don't know how well you know Christopher Randall Nicholson, but... he's trolling. You should read his blog. It's delightful."
- David Young
About the Author
C. Randall Nicholson is a white cisgender Christian male, so you can hate him without guilt, but he's also autistic and asexual, so you can't, unless you're an anti-vaxxer, in which case the feeling is mutual. This blog is where he periodically rants about life, the universe, and/or everything.