Let’s go back in time. I was raised a Protestant Christian and believed in Christ as early as I believed anything. At around 14 made a specific determination to live my life for Him. This is what traditional Christians (and folks who don’t get creeped out by the terms) would call “being born again” or “accepting Christ as your personal Savior.” Alma might call it having “having been spiritually born of God.”
One of the things I enjoyed most about my Protestant upbringing was that the basic principles were so, well, basic: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, might, mind, and strength (because they were three in one and one in three, you didn’t have to parse Everyone out); live a moral, compassionate life – which would come pretty much naturally if you were really doing number 1. Committing to Christ as the unique Way, Truth & Life was essential, but I never really felt compelled to buy into the “or else you’ll be damned to hell” post script.
During the last years of high school and my freshman year at Wellesley College, I wrestled with the question of whether I should be a Mormon. I’d taken the missionary lessons at the home of my high school best friend whose family was inactive at the time. I was so taken by Brigham Young’s claim that “all that is true is contained in the Gospel, no matter who has it.” What’s not to love about that? Who doesn’t want that?
Still, I didn’t want to be scammed. One evening in my first college year I had an experience that made it clear to me that God’s hand is in this Mormon place, that there’s something to the authority here that isn’t anywhere else, and that I should in fact become a Mormon. None of my intellectual concerns were answered and none of the quirky or disturbing things about LDS teachings and history I’d already heard vanished. But the message was still clear.
Fast forward to the early 1980’s. I heard about a talk that Bruce R. McConkie gave at a BYU devotional blasting poor George Pace for a book he’d written called “Having a Personal Relationship with Christ.” In this devotional McConkie very specifically detailed the three distinct aspects of members of the Godhead and told everyone what the appropriate feeling was to have toward each of them. Apparently he viewed Pace’s teachings as getting too chummy.
This sent me into a deep downward spiral. What exactly were these Mormons teaching? Since when was it inappropriate to have a personal relationship with Christ? This was a truth I’d known since long before the Mormons and I wasn’t about to toss it because some guy with “authority as he supposed” said it was “foolish and unwise.” I determined to re-read the Book of Mormon with an eye to all the references to Christ and see if I was going to have to bail out of this place after all.
What struck me most in reading the Book of Mormon was the familiar call to Christ that I’d known before I could walk. And when Christ finally shows up – the pivotal point in the Book of Mormon that marks time and focuses everything – what does he want to hammer home to his followers? He says it several times within a few short verses in 3 Nephi 11. First he describes (with no great persnickety-ness) the unity of the Godhead. Then, getting down to the nitty gritty: …ye must repent, and become as a little child, and be baptized in my name, or ye can in no wise receive these things…I say unto you, that this is my doctrine, and whoso buildeth upon this buildeth upon my rock, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against them. And whoso shall declare more or less than this, and establish it for my doctrine, the same cometh of evil, and is not built upon my rock…”
I cling to these basics. All the truth I had before is still true. Whew. Granted, there are a lot of loose ends. This doesn’t mention the temple, for example. But I’ve had my own confirmations about that and while I find it troubling, confusing, and head-scratching much of the time, I honestly believe there’s a living pulse under there. I put that into the “building upon the rock” category.
Maybe Elder McConkie thought his “doctrine” was also building upon the rock. Since I’m also cautioned in this same chapter not to have “the spirit of contention” or “contend with anger one with another”, I’ve had to do some major heart/mind/soul work to allow folks who think in that rigid way to have a place in what I consider the real true church. (Good thing, since I can’t really escape them.)
I still view the Gospel as all truth and our job as a church and as Mormons is to be open to and respectful of “the further light and knowledge” we receive. I’m just very wary about what I let into that core. I believe something dramatic and divine happened to Joseph Smith in the Sacred Grove and with the Book of Mormon. (I am not so willing to believe that God actually told Joseph that all the other churches were “wrong.” Semantics will be the death of us all.) The rest I have to put into the “wiggle room category.” In my own personal wiggle room category, there are many mansions. I don’t want to be building on shifting sands after all.
So what’s false doctrine? There was no dramatic falling of scales off my eyes when I officially “received the Holy Ghost.” I think God is very generous with the way the Spirit moves on people. Does being sealed to dead church leaders so you can have a glorious kingdom in the hereafter sound like something we’re promoting now? It was a big deal back in the 19th century. And when early converts were searching for a church that followed the format of the church of Christ’s time, would they really find it here now? (Did they find it here then?) What about the sister who teaches that modesty involves dressing even her baby girls in onesies with sleeves and assumes we all agree on that? If I had to be a “sound doctrine cop” I’d be blowing my whistle all the time.
I want to be clear that while I am pleased to consider myself a Mormon of minimalist theology, I am NOT a minimalist Mormon. I consider myself to be a fully committed Mormon, a Christian walking my walk of faith here and continuing to develop a muscular, robust relationship with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.