Soon after graduating from high school, Stephanie realized she wanted to join the Mormon Church. But she was reluctant to tell her parents. In an article for Mormon Times Stephanie wrote,
“While my father and mother are wonderful people, they did not have an understanding of the gospel at the time. Both agnostic themselves, it wasn’t religion in general that they were worried about. It was our [Mormon] religion and the many stereotypes associated with it that caused concern. I faced a challenge: How do I explain to them why I want to get baptized?”
While away at college, Stephanie took the advice of her branch president back home and wrote her parents a letter that conveyed “all of [her] feelings without interruption.” Her hope was that their hearts would be softened.
The letter had its desired effect and Stephanie was baptized into the Mormon Church with the support of her parents in December 2009. She included the full text of her letter in the Mormon Times article, prefaced with her goal regarding her readers, whether members or investigators: “Hopefully my letter will in some way strengthen your testimony.”
Stephanie’s letter is long (over 1400 words) and unmistakably heartfelt. She tells her parents, “I love the church and the profound effect it has had on my life.” I encourage you to read Stephanie’s entire letter, but I will summarize here. The main points influencing Stephanie’s desire to join the Mormon Church were these:
- Conservative morals
- Positive peer pressure
- Belonging to a community of kindhearted and open people
- Hearing members’ testimonies on Fast Sundays (and sharing her own)
- Being welcomed rather than judged
- Being challenged to become humble and become a better person
- The promise of the gift of the Holy Ghost at baptism, which would provide guidance
- Being allowed (as a member) to give talks, serve on committees, pay tithing, and participate in missionary work
Stephanie gave her parents many reasons that explained her decision to be baptized in the Mormon Church, and they offered her love and support in return. Stephanie probably understood what types of things would resonate positively with her agnostic parents and wrote her letter accordingly. Even so, I am struck by both the focus of the letter, and what’s missing from it.
In seeking to accomplish her goals (i.e., explain why she wanted to get baptized, convey all of her feelings, and soften the hearts of her parents) Stephanie testified eloquently of the Church – its people, its programs, and its positive influence on behavior; but she did not testify of Christ.
I don’t mean to be pedantic, but I think it is illustrative that Stephanie’s letter mentioned the Mormon Church 26 times while bringing up the name of Jesus only twice (once in the full name of the Church, and once in identifying the members of the Mormon godhead). Stephanie’s own testimony (and the testimony of the others which she hopes her letter will strengthen) is all about the Church and what it can do for members. She doesn’t talk about her love for God or her desire to worship and serve Him. She doesn’t talk about what Jesus, as Savior, has done for her, or what it means to be loved by Him. Instead, Stephanie testifies,
“I love the church…”
“I love the church…”
“It’s my love for the church…”
It sounds to me like Stephanie (and other Mormons) would have no problem affirming LDS apostle Marion G. Romney’s 1961 General Conference proclamation that “This Church…is the way, the truth, and the life” (Conference Report, April 1961, 119. Also quoted in Book of Mormon Student Manual Religion 121 and 122, 1989, 26).
I wonder if they even know that Jesus said He is the way, the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Him (John 14:6).