I was born into a family with devout Mormon parents. They were married in the beautiful Mormon temple atop a hill in Manti, Utah. Their ceremony promised the creation of an everlasting family relationship which would continue after death.
The teachings of the Mormon prophets were the bedrock of their world view and their teachings to me. I do not doubt their sincerity and I am grateful for the moral foundation that they gave to me. My heart fills with gratitude for the love and support that they gave me through the years. I treasure the lessons of compassion and truth they passed on to me. I honor the legacy of integrity and honesty that they left me.
Despite my parent’s faith, I was a natural skeptic as a child. I probably took my parents’ teachings as a matter of fact when I was very young—I don’t remember—but I began to doubt their teachings even in childhood.
Early on, I struggled with the idea of believing in a God whom I couldn’t see. I remember staring up at the speakers on the ceiling of my childhood chapel during sacrament meeting and pondering in confusion how faith worked. I looked around and wondered why I was different from everyone else seated in the pews who seemed to have such certainty in His existence. I couldn’t feel the presence of God or his Son and didn’t know why I should be so different. Hearing others speak about their love for God baffled me. I could not relate. God always seemed a distant, unknowable character. He never introduced himself to me. I could love my mother, but God was a stranger to me.
In Sunday School, the lessons about Joseph Smith made me squirm in my seat. I couldn’t shake the impression that he was just making up stories, like I did as a child to impress my friends. I often exaggerated the truth or made things up so friends would think that I was more exciting or knowledgeable than I truly was. Hearing about Joseph’s angelic visitations and his visions of God made me wonder why I had never seen such things. What made me different? The stories were as fabulous to me as Santa Claus and Pinocchio, but I knew that the adults wanted me to believe them.
I remember having a discussion with my older sister questioning to her why we—meaning Mormons—could be so certain that we were right and everyone else was mistaken, that we were members of God’s one True Church. Every Sunday, I would hear people proclaiming that we were members of the only true church on the face of the earth. Most of our meetings seemed designed to reassure each other that this was a fact. I couldn’t find a good reason to believe this. I came to the uncharitable conclusion that everyone who professed to know that the teachings of the Church were the absolute truth was either lying or deceived.
When it came time to become a member of the Mormon Church through baptism at the age of eight, I remember being more concerned that if I didn’t get baptized that it would jeopardize my chance of becoming a Cub Scout. I loved reading through my father’s old Boy Scout manuals and fantasizing about all the fun they had camping and hiking. I was baptized one month after turning eight.
The adults in my life all promised that I would feel clean and pure after my baptism. The baptism rite was symbolic of God cleansing the initiate of all sins through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus. Even though this baptism is symbolic, it is still expected to have a literal effect on our conscience. I don’t remember feeling especially clean. The same guilt followed me as before my baptism.
At least I wasn’t delayed in joining the Cub Scouts.