Juliane was born and raised in Germany by her semi-feminist mother in a somewhat spiritual, but non-religious home. She started investigating the Church in 2001, and was baptized in 2002. She is presently in a state of transition, being open to wherever God will lead her. Her heart is neither set on staying in, nor leaving the Church. Yoga, running, and writing help her keep her sanity (sort of). Juliane has one very patient husband, four fabulous daughters, and lives in beautiful Montana. She recently went back to college, and will be graduating next May (fingers crossed) with a B.A. in Communication Studies. She’s in love with blogging, and is currently working on her first book, which she will hopefully self publish in late summer 2011. Juliane blogs at http://www.mollymormonseviltwin.blogspot.com
The other day, I had a conversation with my temple president, about my doubts and questions relating to the Church. He was very kind, and listened patiently. He tried to comfort me by sharing his testimony. However, towards the end of our conversation, he stopped and told me he didn’t feel very helpful. In that moment, it hit me; why our conversation – while mutually respectful – was not really productive. All of a sudden, looking at my temple president, I realized (and immediately blurted out), “I don’t believe there is only one true church!”
It was like stepping back from a huge painting, and things started taking shape. Of course, faith conversations are much more frustrating when you are on completely different page regarding exclusivity claims.
The claim of Christianity, according to the scriptures, is exclusive: “Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6) In Acts 4:12 we read that “neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” Should you have any question as to what kind of relationship this creates between believers and non-believers, look no further than John 3:18 where we are admonished that “he that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already…”. No wonder members of exclusive religions so often feel justified in condemning people of different beliefs.
Islam and Judaism have a similar exclusivity claim to Christianity, while Hinduism is the only major world religion that does not. Of course there are more progressive sects or scholars within those religions that are pushing for a more inclusive approach.
Our church, however, is on the conservative end of the spectrum, and not only believes in Christianity’s exclusive claims of salvation, but that within Christianity the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is the only true church. This claim is based on Mormon scripture, such as Doctrine & Covenants 1:30, in which God calls the church: “…the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth, with which I , the Lord, am well pleased.” As Bruce R. McConkie said in the now slightly controversial Mormon Doctrine: “There is no salvation outside the church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints” (page 670). On lds.org we learn that “Joseph Smith was called to help bring back the true Church of Jesus Christ.”
Our Church has been based on this exclusivity from the beginning, when Joseph Smith was told by God that none of the existing churches were right, and instead was called to restore the one true church. Even though church leaders recognize that there are good people everywhere, believers of different religions and atheists alike, they unequivocally teach that one can only fulfill his/her highest potential as a member of the one true church, which is superior to all others.
Since there are so many individuals, groups, churches, denominations, and world religions who claim to be right, a lot of them must necessarily be wrong. Why not ours? Other churches have just as many spiritual experiences, revelations, and prophets to back up their claims. To me, this means that ultimately my agency in this exclusive church is either to believe it all, or discard it all. There is no middle ground.
When I think back to what attracted me to the Church in the first place, it was never exclusivity (if you must know, it was the divine feminine, eternal families and personal revelation). The exclusivity claims were in fact a huge turn off, which is why I could never bear my testimony on the one true church, and often cringe when I hear little kids repeat what often seem to be hollow words (or maybe I’m just jealous that all the five year olds seem to “know”, and I don’t). My understanding is this: There is a God, and therefore divine truth. However, we as human beings with our flawed brains, hearts, and language are bound to fail at understanding and communicating those truths perfectly, therefore the truth also becomes flawed as soon as we try to grasp it, or make sense of it. I believe there are as many different ways to approach God as there are people. Of course it’s not a popular view within those exclusive religions….which is why I think so many well-meaning members have tried to kindly (or not so kindly) set me back on the straight and narrow.
I know that for many members and investigators, the Church’s absolutist claim of possessing all truth is what draws them in. If you have a testimony of the one true church (or the one true anything), I would think that it gives you an immense sense of security, because everything else becomes irrelevant. When the world is black and white, it is easier to navigate right and wrong than if you had to deal with shades of gray.
Where do you fall on the spectrum? Do you think it is possible to reject absolutism, and still be a true believing Mormon?