At church that week, I had grabbed a faded pink copy of a book called Gospel Principles. At that point, when I picked up that book, all I was certain of was that God was real. Some indescribable experiences gave me the gift of certainty- and I absolutely considered that certainty a gift. I flipped through the book idly, and finally decided to actually read.
It took six chapters before I was converted.
Now, eight years later, I like to fancy my understanding is greater than it was that night- but when I stop and think about it, I’m not so confident in that fancy. Today, I have real-world church experiences behind me, I have familiarity with our collective history– the good, the bad, the miraculous, and the ugly. There are callings and services rendered, communion with friends I consider my family, well-prepared-for trips to the temple and more potlucks than I can count. But when I stop and think about it, my bedrock might have been laid down that night from that floppy, inadequate, pink manual. The grad-student in me wants to feel kind of embarrassed– I mean, it’s a manual– and claim something fancier, loftier. But it’s simply not true.
Chapter 1 begins: “All things denote there is a God; yea, even the earth, and all things that are upon the face of it, yea, and its motion, yea, and also all the planets which move in their regular form do witness that there is a Supreme Creator” (Alma 30: 44). It then goes on to explain that Christ is actually the creator of the universe- Hmmm… that was new and different. But it also seemed poetic and beautiful. The idea drew me in further. Oh, hey- God and Christ are not the same being… that also made sense
Chapter 2 talks about spirit life, and who and what we were before we shuffled onto the mortal coil. We were all someone before we came here. Passion, talent, intellect, intelligence… Now this was good stuff- and it was nothing I had heard anywhere else. These were not amorphous answers about mystery and clouds- and something inside me was lighting up. Whoa! Hey! God wants me to learn and progress? That means there is not some end-game where I hang out with a harp for eternity… something I had not heard outside of eastern faiths, which I had also tried.
Chapter 3 introduces the idea that the Savior is my brother, and that he chose, of his own will, to come to earth and perform the Atonement. It talked of councils and wars and a life before this one. It was weird, but oddly exhilarating. Chapter 4 introduces agency:
“Thou mayest choose for thyself, for it is given unto thee” Moses 3:17
This was the first time I had read about choice and temptation being good things for us- that we had chosen this path, and not been unwilling pawns of a basic disaster. Now I was up and pacing the living room, the cover folded back on the book as I kept reading.
Then, in chapter 5, the doozy: “Worlds without number have I created; . . . and by the Son I created them, which is mine Only Begotten” (Moses 1:33). Whoa! Wait a minute- this was theology and cosmology that answers my questions about science and the universe and other worlds, which science says surely exist, yet are the elephant in the room with most faiths! This was filling in gaps faster than I could read, and answering questions I’d held most of my life.
The kicker came in chapter 6. The traditional Christian narrative of Adam and Eve had always sat just slightly askance with me, particularly the idea of a God who would allow his one world to be screwed up forever by a hapless accident. And here in the LDS narrative, we have Eve being beguiled, and then she and Adam making a choice, for the benefit of mankind! Huzzah!
I woke my husband up and read him all of chapters five and six.
And that was it. I went to church the next Sunday and asked to be baptized.
This is why I joined the LDS church. It was the doctrine. Sometimes I think generational Mormons forget how amazing and wonderful and different this is- when I first heard it, my spirit lit up, and I wanted to cry with joy. This is also why it bothers me tremendously when I see and read about trends towards Mormons aligning ourselves with and maybe sometimes trying to be more like more general Christians. We are not. We have fundamental, specific, and very important differences- and without those differences, we would not be who we are.
We don’t need to be apologetic about those differences- we don’t need to give sheepish grins or align ourselves politically with people who really don’t like us. What does make me squeamish is the idea of being embarrassed by who we are.
I’m an adult convert. I joined this church because of the doctrine. I’ve heard talk speculating on converts joining for the culture or the welfare or because of social standing- and I suppose that must happen. But there isn’t a potluck or an ice cream social in the world that would have kept me here without that desire to sing with joy. The thing that makes it worth my while, my time, my energy, my family, my life? I believe it.