Gospel Principles

It was late. The house was quiet and still, and my baby had just been fed and slept on the sofa next to me as I read. For a few weeks I had been attending the local LDS church, and was seriously contemplating which path I would chose for my small, growing family. I’d been church-shopping for years, and had piles of pamphlets and books from varied denominations.

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.


  1. Coffinberry says:

    Thank you for this! The things that resonated with you are the things that thrill me about the Gospel. Thanks for the reminder.

  2. I feel my experience is similar. I love the church because I love the doctrine. Gospel Principles is close to my favorite book aside from the scriptures. The unique doctrines of the church shine in that book.

    For me the book that converted me was M. Russell Ballard’s Our Search for Happiness. After reading that and hearing the Mormon explanations for the purpose of life, how we got here, who leads the church, etc was all explained in ways that made more sense to me than any other explanation. It all felt so right and as I learned to pray, I learned about the Spirit and felt it repeatedly testifying to me the truth of Mormon doctrines.

    I knew coming into the church that I would have misgivings with church culture and sure enough the same things that caused me to be hesitant or condescending before my conversion are the same now, though I have a great deal more compassion and empathy than in my atheist days.

  3. Thank you, Tracy. Between you and the Head-Kramer think-tank it has been a great start to the say.

  4. As ward mission leader I taught from that manual for several years and I have to admit getting a little bored by it. Thanks for the reminder of the power that the plain and precious truths it contains can have.

  5. Absolutely wonderful, Tracy. Thanks.

  6. Thanks for this! It lifted my spirit to read of the doctrines uplifting your spirit. I agree with you completely that we should own our powerful doctrines and their uniqueness. We believe, after all, that they are true and ancient and of immense value to our spiritual progress. Thanks for the reminder.

  7. Huzzah! I have convert envy again. Thank you, Tracy.

  8. Yay! Great, Tracy. The most interesting parts of the doctrine for me have always been the parts you mentioned. A pre-existence, a progression of knowledge, the nature of God. That’s the part I love.

  9. Marjorie Conder says:

    i was a very reluctant participant when I first started attending the Gospel Principles class about a year ago. I have been so surprised at how much this lifetime member who fancies herself a “theologian” has felt and learned.

  10. So true, Tracy, so true! I often think generational Mormons, and even long-time converts like me can grow oblivious to the awesomeness of our doctrines. One thing after another rang true to me when I was investigating the church: no paid clergy, all of us learning through teaching and serving one another as well as being taught, the Word of Wisdom, the King Follett discourse, the importance of families, and all the counsel about building strong families (as well as so many good examples of strong families to follow), eternal progression, the importance of lifelong learning, tithing and all the good financial counsel, thrift, industry, that the purpose of life is Joy, bearing one another’s burdens, being of one heart, the unnecessary and damaging nature of most contention, our divine natures, the teaching that we must take responsibility for the world and build a Zion community, and on and on.

    It all amounted to a complete realignment of my energies in ways that complemented each other and pulled in a single direction toward more light and more abundant life, instead of being at odds with and constantly battling myself. Though I considered myself well-raised and fairly knowledgeable before, when I learned about the Restored Gospel it prompted me to overhaul and change my life vastly for the better. I realize now that I was profoundly ignorant of how to live, and that ignorance had led to great misery and confusion for me and my family. The Restored Gospel, and the partnership with a living God that it showed me how to join, have brought me understanding and peace such as I could never have attained otherwise. We Latter-day Saints do indeed have great treasures of knowledge. The heavens are open. I too believe it.

  11. I believe you just proved that miracles are brought to pass by small and simple things.

  12. “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.”

    Yes, yes and yes! Such a great post.

  13. Tracy,

    Nice work. Thanks. I share your love for the doctrines.

  14. beautiful…our view on the fall is so unique it makees the Temple a wonder. How different the temple would be if it had the traditional fall view.

    Thanks for sharing

  15. Julie M. Smith says:

    Love this . . . thanks.

  16. Thanks for sharing this. I really enjoyed reading this, and agree with all you have said!

  17. This is beautiful, and enlightening. Thanks, Tracy.

  18. Tracy, it’s been great to follow along your path with you, and just yesterday I was wondering if you had ever posted on your conversion. My story is much more recent than yours, and I’m much older than you are, but the stories are quite similar. My biggest revelation was the concept of agency, followed closely by Adam and Eve. Yes, institutions are messy, and people are messy, but the purity of the doctrine has the ability to hold us together and guide us in the way we need to go.

  19. Thank you for the simple, yet profound reminder of why I believe and love this Church.

  20. Former UK resident says:

    Now this is a fantastic post. Thank you for sharing.

    -a generational Mormon

  21. Cheers, Tracy.

  22. StillConfused says:

    I think there is an advantage to being an adult convert when you have the ability to actually review the good and the bad and make an informed decision prior to baptism.

  23. #21 – You raise an interesting point. I’m a convert, but was a “child” convert as my parents were the adult converts in our household. As a result I had the opportunity to have the gospel in my home during my formative years (I was about nine when we were baptized), but I also had a clear recollection of the conversion process — missionaries, lessons, being in the temple with my parents for our family’s sealing. All of those provided significant foundations for my later exploration of “the good and bad”.

  24. Amen

  25. Thank you for sharing this, Tracy.
    A testimony boost.
    I love how you sharing your testimony helps mine.

  26. Thanks, Tracy. This was perfect.

  27. This post is great! I grew up in the church with convert parents, so my experience is different than yours. For me, it was a huge faith crisis that helped me understand the uniqueness and beauty of Mormon doctrine.
    When I see people worrying about others in similar crisis now, I just want to shout out that they should be grateful that they have questions about the Gospel and are willing to ask them. How else will they find answers?
    My favorite thing that you wrote:
    “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.”
    Yay! The whole kerfuffle during Romney’s campaign about Christ and Satan being brothers made me cringe. Why deny our doctrine? Why do we care if other people define us as Christians? Do we really need their approval?

  28. Next time I am tempted to crab about “correlation” I’ll come back and read this post.

    Thanks, Tracy. This is terrific!

  29. Tracy, you continue to impress me with your ability to use your life story as a means of communicating great truths, and express your testimony with power. As a “generational” member, I have to admit that really understanding those basic doctrines that were key to your conversion in chapters 5 and 6 of the GP manual are also key to my mature testimony. I grew up in the church because my parents took me to church. I am firmly committed to the church as an adult due to the powers of those doctrines, and the difference that they make in my life.

    Thank you, and amen.

  30. I love the gospel principles manual. I am *so* glad we all are now going to be more exposed to it these next years.

  31. Thank you for sharing. I’m a ‘generational Mormon’ and guilty as charged on all counts. You clearly appreciate the day to day reality of the sun, more than I do, after you emerged from the cave.

  32. Thanks Tracy. I’m also a convert, and when I think back I’m amazed at how powerful the basic doctrine was to me as I learned about the gospel. Exactly the sort of stuff found in Gospel Principles. I remember reading Mormon Doctrine and just eating it up. The missionary pamphlets. A Marvelous Work and a Wonder. The Miracle of Forgiveness. All things that generate a lot more angst and hedging when I read or think about them now. But then, it was all like a marvelous revelation, and I loved it all. I think we need to be careful as members of the church to not let our cynicysm color the experience of a new convert learning about the wonderful doctrines of the gospel. Maybe 19 year old kids are just the people to present it all, come to think of it…

  33. Tracy — Thanks for this. For me, it was about a third of the way into Alma for the first time — I just knew this was true and powerful and right. I was almost 16.

  34. Even though I’m a “generational” Mormon, I too love the Gospel Principles manual.

    I think I really gained the most by teaching the Gospel Essentials class for a year in my ward at the time my Catholic boyfriend was investigating the Church. Somehow knowing that he would be in the class, made me pray and prepare like I never had before so that I could really speak my personal testimony of these principles. I’ve come to love the uniqueness of our doctrine and the beauty of knowing not only who I am, but my purpose in God’s larger plan. It brings such peace and purpose to the way I live, that I can’t imagine my life any other way.

    Thank you for sharing Tracy, and the beautiful way you express yourself. So yes, huzzah! And amen.

  35. Kevin Barney says:

    I’m a generational Mormon, and I think sometimes I have some of the tendencies mentioned in the OP. Thanks for helping me to see things through a new convert’s eyes.

  36. This was beautiful, Tracy. An absolute joy to read. As one who sometimes feels underwhelmed with the presentation of the gospel at Church, I loved putting myself in your shoes being thrilled at your experience as it was first presented to you. Thank you.

    Unlike others above, I cannot say that I love the GP manual, but I can unequivocally state that I love the actual gospel principles! This post was a wonderful reminder of that.

  37. CC, it’s funny- this is the part of myself I war with. Today, I can also say I don’t love the manual- I have gripes and things that cause me concern. Yet at the time, if I am being honest, it was precisely the simplicity and pared-down _doctrine_ that I needed.

    It wasn’t intellect that brought me to my faith. It’s partly the outlet for intellect and discourse I’ve found that keeps me- but I could never have drank from that fire-hose when I was just looking for simple answers and for the lighting afire of my spirit.

    Thanks to all for your kind words. Telling my stories is how I know my place in the universe, and I’m grateful for those willing to listen or read.

  38. Tracy,

    Thanks for posting this; I joined the Church at the age of 14 in 1992 after having “investigated” for about 7 years, since the time when my mom joined the Church in 1985 (parental disputes/divorce delayed baptism). When it came time for me to make the decision I was a freshman in high school, and I tried to approach the decision logically — I thought about the doctrines and compared them to those I had been taught in almost a decade of Catholic education. The most compelling thing for me, even at a young age, was the questions about the purpose of life. The truths revealed in D&C 132 and the King Follett discourse really made (and continue to make) so much sense to me, and answer in a truly superior way the questions about what the purpose of life is. I can’t imagine more satisfactory answers to the questions about mankind’s destiny than those found in this Church.

    This is such a refreshing post to read, and I thank you for it.

  39. Beautiful post, and I’ve enjoyed reading the comments.

  40. Years ago my husband I (both generational Mormons) found that Gospel Essentials is the best place for us during Sunday School. It focuses on the simple truths of the gospel and is filled with converts in love with the Savior and his gospel. Your post reminds me of those lessons, thank you.

  41. Mommie Dearest says:

    Me too Tracy. I just wish obedience was as easy for me to grasp as doctrine. I’m always a few miles behind in the obdience dept, but I am getting better. I have come to consider my grasp of doctrine a sorely needed gift, because without it I would be wandering among the most worldly of fools. Instead, I am willing to stay and struggle, because I see the underlying structure of truth.

    P.S. I will never again demean the Gospel Principles manual. Or any manual.

  42. S.P. Bailey says:

    Great post. Thanks. The b-nacle needs more like this.

  43. I’m a big fan of the Gospel Principles manual – and for those of you who read our blog about all the *issues* that the YW manuals have, you know that’s saying something. I think it’s so well written, that there’s neither too much nor too little. It’s like Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style applied to the gospel: just concise enough without being Hemingway. If there’s any manual I would have declared perfect (as in: leave it alone! don’t let a committee mess with it!), it’s this one.

  44. Simply beautiful. One of the reasons I love where I live is that even though most of the people are generational Mormons, what you have captured here — the power of the simple purity of the doctrine — really is the bedrock of their lives and of our worship together.

    Reminds me of that Pres. Hinckley talk: “It’s true, isn’t it? Then what else matters?”

  45. Thank you. Posts like this give my testimony a much needed shot in the arm. As a generational mormon I’ve often wondered if I would have recognized the gospel had I been introduced to it in any other way. It’s soothing to witness the conversion process in others. I find it to be miraculous and I also prefer to attend the Gospel Essentials class for that main reason.

  46. Amen, and amen.

  47. Tracy, this was wonderful. It reminded me of my own conversion (although baptized when I was eight) in the Army with a similar thing that had been passed out to solders. You are right! It was our doctrines that pulled me in presented in their power and simplicity. Although, I’ve explored things in greater complexity since, I cannot forget the feelings and joy I found in simplicity. It is important to remember this.

  48. Wow…and after all those complaints about correlation!

    I believe this is one of the top 5 bloggernacle posts I have ever read.

    Thank You

  49. Beautiful post!
    Thank you so much.

    I am High Priests Group Leader in a ward that is at times an uneasy mix of numerous good people without college degrees with a few doctors and lawyers. A few weeks ago I was teaching the lesson in Gospel Principals on the plan of Salvation and as the lesson suggests, I had the class vocally generate the chart on physical and spiritual death, while I put it on the board. I then actually heard myself saying something the lesson does not suggest, that we can’t find this chart in the scriptures, that the scriptures are nowhere quite so pat, that we Mormons are good at this chart because we tend to love pat answers. This comment didn’t phase the other lawyers, but I caught some pained looks on the faces of some of the other good brethren.

    Thanks Tracy for reminding me about the beauty of the pat answers.

  50. God Bless You Tracy; your post must have broken the one day record for comments with only correlation and appreciation. We do find doctrinal and historical points that can cause us to pray diligently for understanding, however, your post has taken us all back to the first days of studying the docrtines of this church and shown us once again how important it is to have a basic, entry Gospel Principles in every language of the world that actually does line up some “pat” answers and explanations for those who jusst want the truth about our existence, about God, about Jesus the Christ before any monotony or routine potlucks creep in? Thank you.

  51. How can I add thanks? I agree. If it were not for the doctrine and for the truths….

    What you have expressed is the essential humanism of Mormonism, humanism extended to the eternities. Praise to the Man who communed with Jehovah! Amen and Amen.

  52. Great post. I too am an adult convert. One thing that appealed to me was the understanding that conversion, “being saved,” if you will, is a process, not an event and that God has provided a way, even for those who haven’t heard the gospel in this life or who struggle with living it, the opportunity find the way. I too went into the church knowing that I would have problems with aspects of the culture, but I always go back to what the gospel teaches me, and that’s the Atonement that gives us the power to look beyond the foibles of both myself and the people in the church.

  53. lcclayton, you’re right- we do love pat answers. And now that I’m almost a decade into my church membership, I understand the nuance and depth of our doctrines better- but I would never have gotten to this point, here, without those first simple answers. So while now I would not have raised an eyebrow at your answer in HP, it took me a while to understand that.

    I didn’t mean this to be a post about correlation. But do count me among those that don’t see correlation as all bad. What I was trying to express is my discontent with what I see as a general movement to align ourselves with creedal Christians. We are different, and that difference is WHY I joined THIS church and not the dozens of others.

  54. Tracy, you may not have meant this to be a post about correlation, but criticism of Correlation is rampant on the bloggernacle. What struck me about your post was that it helped us all feel like we may be on the wrong track when we feel dissatisfation about “correlation” and manuals.

    What if we were all to ask ourselves what were the manual writers or the correlation committee members thinking when they generated the item that dissatisfied us? I think we could generally come up with laudable reasons that we would approve of.

  55. Sorry, but … pat answers.

    Pat answers are 2+2=4. Over and over again. The deeper questions, which are extraordinarily engaging, are, for example, what does this statement imply about integers and their relationships. It is a shame, in the open-ended gospel, to keep repeating the pat answers.

    A long time passing, my wife and I went to visit her 80+ year old aunt and her husband. When we went to sacrament meeting they apologized in advance for sleeping in the meeting, pointing out that they had heard it all before.

    What do you do? I love the doctrine and the revealed truths. Thinking about the implications have occupied much of my adult life and continues to do so. But the meetings are deadly dull.

    Six years ago my wife and I were asked, coincidentally, to talk to both the Ward and the Student Branch on Easter Sunday. We both entered into this project with much prayer and trepidation. I know my penchant for wanting to expand everyone’s knowledge, regardless of whether they want it or not. So I wrote the talk word for word and quoted Joseph Smith and the scriptures for every inference.

    After the meeting my hardest opponent, the wife of the stake president, came up to talk. I was worried. She very hesitantly said that this was a talk worthy of general conference. The talk was not correlated and did not quote any recent conference talk. It laid out the clear gospel and expanded everyone’s view of eternity beyond the elemental pat answer.

    As I said above, praise to the man. Praise to God that we live in this dispensation. Praise to God that we belong to a Church were truth is revealed and we can drink from the source the clear cold waters of truth.

    Thanks again, Tracy

  56. Thanks, Tracy.

    A favorite tool of physicists is perturbation theory, which (more or less) lets one get in the right ball-park first before trying to drill down to ever-finer details. Your comment in (53) reminds me of this. Drawn in by the simple doctrine, kept in by the wonderful details!

  57. I agree that this is in the top 5 of blog posts I have ever read. Last Sunday, I sat in Elder’s Quorum and learned about “Faith In Jesus Christ” from the Gospel Principles manual. It was one of the best spiritual times I have had in my life. So sweet, so moving. It is in Him that there is vitality.

    I also am fixed to the gospel by the unique doctrines that are our own. The purpose of our life, The ever growing and strengthening. Agency.

    I wonder if some of the dissatisfaction over correlation comes because it is so recent. We have not had the benefit of centuries to see what the fruits of it will be. It is easy to believe in dead prophets. It is better to believe in living prophets of the living God.

    Thank you so much for sharing your experience.

    – A Generational Mormon

  58. Wonderful post, Tracy.

    I haven’t read the comments yet, but I just want to add that the cosmology and theology of Mormonism resonate within me in ways that nothing but some aspects of Buddhism do. I can put up with the messiness that can be Mormon culture just to continue to be able to drink from the theological fountain that I call “pure Mormonism”. It still astounds me on a regular basis after decades in the Church.

  59. Wow! This is a great experience. Thanks for sharing it. I think this answered some of the questions I’ve had about sharing the gospel with one of my friends. I might just give him a gospel principles manual since he is most interested in comparing the church doctrine with his beliefs. Thanks!

  60. I’m with you fellas.

  61. Thank you. Sometimes I get bogged down in cultural things and forget why I joined. Your post reminded me.

  62. Wonderful!

  63. I was 15, almost 16. Had been investigating the Church for 9 months or so. I sat down one Saturday and read Gospel Principles from beginning to end. The fact that my mom didn’t give me a chore list so I could read is a miracle by itself. When I started, I didn’t want to be a member. When I finished, I wanted to be baptized. I did, best thing I’ve ever done. It was the beauty of the doctrine and the spirit of truth coming through it. I remember being shocked at being expected to be perfectly honest. But I realized, “What else could the True Church ask but complete honesty?” After several years investigating many churches, I had come home.

  64. I just came across this blog and this was the first post I read. Thanks for sharing. There is a reason we have been learning basics in Priesthood and Relief Society this year.

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