Nearly two years ago I took the most massive dose of humility in my life by acknowledging, first to myself and then to everyone, that I had been wrong about the Church and by going through the process of returning and being rebaptized. After that I worked to have my priesthood and temple blessings restored, which they were last fall. I am an active and committed member, not only attending church, tithing, and home teaching, but also privately praying, studying the scriptures--currently the Book of Mormon and Book of Abraham, going to the temple, and trying to grow spiritually.
Since returning to the Church I've had two or three experiences in which people have seemed to look down on me for having previously left the Church or have implied that perhaps I don't really belong in the Church. These few experiences have occurred exclusively on Internet message boards, where the people talking often don't really know the people they're talking to or about, and where concerns for another's feelings and good name can easily be forgotten in light of the pressing need to make a good response to an opposing poster.
Yet in spite of these few experiences and the several years I previously spent outside the Church and posting on boards like this as a nonbeliever, I have been overwhelmingly and beautifully accepted by other Latter-day Saints--including my bishops, my stake president, LDS girls I've dated, other members of my ward, the people I worked with at the Joseph Smith Papers, the organizers of the FAIR Conference, and even the Church Historian, Elder Marlin K. Jensen, who called my several years outside the Church "little detour" I had taken in my faith and told me hat all that mattered now is that I was back and willing to serve. This experience of having been reembraced by my fellow Saints, by Church leaders, and by the Church as an institution has been one of the most profoundly moving experiences of my life. Because of it I know that the Church not only talks
of forgiveness, it walks
I appreciate this acceptance so much and hope my fellow Saints will continue to treat me like anyone else in the Church, as if I had never left in the first place. I hope, too, that we can be charitable in our assumptions about one another, as Joseph Smith taught:
“I have sometimes spoken too harshly from the impulse of the moment, and inasmuch as I have wounded your feelings, brethren, I ask your forgiveness, for I love you and will hold you up with all my heart in all righteousness, before the Lord, and before all men; for be assured, brethren, I am willing to stem the torrent of all opposition, in storms and in tempests, in thunders and in lightnings, by sea and by land, in the wilderness or among false brethren, or mobs, or wherever God in His providence may call us. And I am determined that neither heights nor depths, principalities nor powers, things present or things to come, or any other creature, shall separate me from you.
“And I will now covenant with you before God, that I will not listen to or credit any derogatory report against any of you, nor condemn you upon any testimony beneath the heavens, short of that testimony which is infallible, until I can see you face to face, and know of a surety; and I do place unremitted confidence in your word, for I believe you to be men of truth. And I ask the same of you, when I tell you anything, that you place equal confidence in my word, for I will not tell you I know anything that I do not know.” - Joseph Smith, January 16, 1836, History of the Church 2:374.
If I am guilty of something less than this myself, I need to be called on it, because this kind of charity and loyalty are exactly what I hope to show to others.
The other day I had lunch with Chris Smith, Runtu, and Kevin Graham, whom I met then for the first time. The conversation, which lasted maybe an hour and a half, was almost entirely about other posters on the Mormon message boards. I don't believe I said anything about those posters that was unkind. One of the few specific statements I remember making was that I thought Paul Osborne had made a great Mormon and that I'd been very sorry to see him leave the Church--a view I've previously expressed to Paul on this board and which I want to reiterate to him now.
But, uh...why should I have to explain what I did and didn't say in lunchtime banter? What makes this something I should have to justify or report? I don't see other posters being pressed to disclose the contents of their mealtime conversations or supposedly needing to spell out their specific views or defend their testimonies online. So, please, no more singling me out for grilling like this.
In response to some of the posts above...
Kevin--it was great meeting you in person. Like Chris, I found you surprisingly laid back IRL, and even very soft spoken and tolerant of those who choose to be in the Church. And the conversation was fun. If, in our conversation, you picked up the vibe that I, having at one time left the Church myself, could understand why you've done so and that I don't demonize you for it, you are absolutely right. I understand why things don't add up for you and very much empathize with your wish that you did think the Church was true. When I stopped believing several years ago, I felt the same way.
Of course, I'm not indifferent to you having left the Church. I feel the same way about you having left that I do about Paul having done so. And, though your experience may differ, my time outside the Church was not a spiritual or emotional high point. It was more like a wandering in the wilderness.
Though I've criticized your posting style and polemical edge, I think you often make real and substantive contributions to the discussion--as the mods at Mormon Dialogue obviously also think, since they let you get away with an exceptional amount of rule breaking! ;-) But as much as I wish your style were more polite and your your weighing of the evidence more dispassionate, I wish much more that you were still in the Church.
We didn't get a chance to discuss either your leaving or my former leaving and return, but if you're back in the area sometime, that would make an interesting conversation for another lunch.
Loran--I don't think you and I have had much discussion on the boards and we have met only in passing, at the 2010 FAIR Conference, when I had just returned to the Church. I'm not sure why I became a focus of your posting on this thread. Perhaps you were trying to call Kevin on a misrepresentation of my views? Or maybe you thought it was suspect and wrong of me to have lunch with a never-Mormon scholar and a couple lapsed believers who post criticisms of the Church online? In any case, it doesn't matter. I'm not mad at you, but in the future, I'd really strongly prefer you address any inquiries about my perspectives on various Gospel topics to me personally. (Facebook is probably the best way, since I rarely even check my PMs on the message boards).
The best expression of my testimony is my return to the Church and the lifetime of service I plan to give within it. But if you'd like to discuss my perspectives on the Book of Abraham or whatever, catch me at this year's FAIR and I'll be happy to talk with you about them. In the meantime, if you see what you think are questionable posts about my stands on things, please message me to let me know. While I do not want to have to always be defending myself, I also do not want to be misrepresented.
Regarding the Book of Abraham, I have a paper in mind that would lay out some of my most important views. My embrace of and testimony regarding the Book of Abraham are not based on evidence about how it relates to the ancient Near East--a subject on which I am poorly capacitated to pass judgment--but on its teachings. And it is the power of those doctrinal and spiritual teachings that I would like to write on, and perhaps present on in some venue like the FAIR Conference. =)