Why I'm an Evangelical Mormon*

Five years ago, in Pernik, Bulgaria, I sat in our cluttered living room, my head in my hands. It had been a particularly discouraging day. My mind was heavy with confusion and doubts.

“I don’t know if I have ever felt forgiveness from Jesus,” I told my companion. “I don’t think I know what the atonement even means.”

It started a few weeks before my mission began. A desperate struggle, battling guilt and despair over all the sins I had ever committed. I’d always considered myself a good person, righteous, worthy, etc. But now, in the heightened state of spiritual strain only a full-time mission can bring, as I ran the last few years back through my mind over and over again, I realized I had not exactly been a model Mormon.

The ones that hurt worst were the ones I’d done deliberately, almost with glee, sure that God had better things to do than worry about my minor indiscretions. And they were mostly minor. Watching R-rated movies, for example, or kissing boys I barely knew just for the helluvit. Oh yeah. And cursing.

It ate away at me. I plead with God constantly for an experience like Alma the Younger or Enos, who had sweet and undeniable assurances of their worthiness before God. But every time, disparaging thoughts came haunting back…They were different–they weren’t believers–you should have known–Jesus shouldn’t have to bear your load–how dare you even ask?

It lasted all through my mission. It’s probably why I had so few baptisms. I worked so hard my feet developed blisters and my body ached every night, but I taught without testimony. How could I preach the Savior when I hardly knew Him myself?

After I came home, it didn’t get better. If anything, it got worse. Persistent fear. Guilt over every mistake. I was angry at how much more difficult it was to be righteous at home than it had been in the mission field, and I began to resent my mission experience for creating an expectation for a standard I would never be able to achieve again.

Then marriage. And motherhood. Every mounting responsibility brought the looming specter of potential failure. It paralyzed me.

Around this time, Lanny began dialogging with evangelical Christians online. I watched their discussions from a careful distance. They spoke of a concept I had never understood–in fact, a concept I had Bible bashed on my mission–the concept of salvation by grace, not works. It seemed too good to be true. But considering my misery, I gave it a closer look. I spent hours reading books and talks and articles and blogs. I attended lectures by visiting Christian theologians. I felt the tug of mercy.

I began to learn that repentance isn’t a checklist, but a realization of your total dependence on Christ. That you can never be “good enough,” no matter how hard you try, and so you ask God to cleanse you–and He does. That good works can never save you, no matter how good or how plentiful they are. That you serve God because you love Him, because He created you and saved you, not because you’re trying to work your way to heaven.

It was a revolutionary paradigm shift for me. I lightened up. I found joy in living again.

It still disturbs me that I had to learn this from sources outside the Church. In fact, when I compared my newfound understanding with everything I’d learned about salvation from my Mormon upbringing, I almost left the Church entirely. The works-centric vocabulary…the constant injunctions to “be worthy”…and that incomprehensible scripture in 2 Nephi that still gives me heartburn: “After all we can do…”

In the end, I stayed because the Book of Mormon is, at its core, a Christ-centered volume. I stayed because, for all my doubts and confusion, I’ve had spiritual experiences I can’t deny. And I stayed because I hope my sweet grandma is waiting for me on the other side…and I’d sure like to be with her forever.

What’s more, I feel the winds of change in the Church. I know I’m not the only one to have suffered needlessly from an incorrect understanding of the doctrine of grace. I see it preached more openly and freely now than even 5 years ago. Perhaps it’s because now I have ears to hear. Whatever the case, I hope that in some small way I might be able to contribute to a Christ-centered revolution within Mormonism, where He takes His proper place at the core of absolutely everything we do in the Church.

*Please note that when I say “Evangelical Mormon,” I mean I subscribe to a religious philosophy that declares that salvation is through the grace of Christ, not works, and advocate that position within Mormonism. I do NOT support much–if anything–of what the Evangelical movement stands for politically.

About Katie L

A doubter by nature, a believer by grace.

Posted on June 9, 2008, in Mormonism, Personal, Thoughts on God and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. I think it is a shame that people can grow up in the LDS Church and come away thinking that they somehow have to “earn” their salvation independent of Christ or are so laden with guilt about their sins, never able to lay them at the altar before Christ. It is a false understanding and not what is taught in LDS scripture or from the leadership of the Church. I personally believe Stephen Robinson’s book “Believing Christ” has been the most influential writing correcting this false understanding for the Church culturally.

    I think I can understand how this false notion has been and can be perpetuated and it is a rather complex mix of Mormon history, Protestant work ethic, reactionary language to the “saved by grace alone” emphasis in evangelical circles (Mormons often assuming that it implies no commitment of action, which is a false understanding of most evangelical’s belief), Mormons’ unique understanding of salvation and exaltation being different, and general cultural patterns in language.

    I likewise hear changes in LDS meetinghouses and in interfaith dialogues in the use of language about faith and works and grace which I take as a positive development. Although I do think it represents a cultural shift and not a doctrinal shift in any way. The doctrine, whether found in the scriptures or the temple, has always been Christ-centered, any past or current misunderstanding of that doctrine places the church under condemnation, which should not be surprising, the Lord has previously indicated such. The collective church and individual members will always have need to repent, if we didn’t the show would be over already.

  2. A plea to Evangelicals

    Please help me.
    I’m trying to understand.

    I know you believe in the Jesus Christ. He was called the Prince of Peace.
    I cannot figure out how or why so many Evangelicals support war. Or do they?
    Here are my questions.
    1. Do you believe in pre-emptive war?
    If so, how does that reconcile with what Christ taught us?
    2. Do you consider Bush to be a supporter of your principles?

    Last night on 60 minutes, reporter Bob Woodward describes his book in which he indicates Bush has been fascinated with the death counts in the Iraq war. He keeps asking how many we have killed. He is quoted as saying “Kill the b@$t@ards! Kill the b@$t@ards!”

    3. Are those attitudes by Bush something the Evangelicals support?
    4. Do you think Sarah Palin, like Bush, supports warfare in general, or this war in Iraq?
    5. Do evangelicals support the war in Iraq?

  3. Your story touched me. I have felt overcome too. I have slipped into that pit feeling like I would never measure up.

  4. Hi KatieL 🙂
    I love your blog! So glad to have found you from LDStalk.

    This entire post resonated so much with me.
    Especially this quote:

    “It still disturbs me that I had to learn this from sources outside the Church. In fact, when I compared my newfound understanding with everything I’d learned about salvation from my Mormon upbringing, I almost left the Church entirely. The works-centric vocabulary…the constant injunctions to “be worthy”…and that incomprehensible scripture in 2 Nephi that still gives me heartburn: “After all we can do…”

    In my opinion, (and I shared this on Tim’s blog from a post Eric shared on his grace talk) that scripture is why LDS have one of the highest depression rates in the country.
    Once you convert to the church “after all we can do” means be as perfect as you can be or grace will not apply to you. I went most of my life feeling burdened by the gospel because of this emphasis on works over grace. Christ’s mercy would only be extended for the little things I had done wrong.

    It took losing my faith in the claims of the church, to finally believe Christ; that the atonement was for me too. The burden was finally lifted.

    I serve in a Primary calling right now, and I have really made the teaching focus around the unconditional love that God has for each of them.

    One example I can share:
    I did a lesson on the Prodigal Son and having charity for our brothers and sisters. It was reading an EV blog that I found the material and theme I wanted to use: “are you the servant or the older brother?”

    After reading the parable we discussed how the older brother represents the people who believe they deserve a greater reward in heaven than someone else who didn’t follow all the rules. They expect recompense for a life of good works, and do not have charity in their hearts. Without charity, we can not enter God’s presence.

    In contrast, the servant represents those who have truly forgiven others for their mistakes, and welcomes them into the same place in heaven. The servant does not feel entitled to a special reward or higher kingdom than another. They have charity in their hearts for their brother, and would cry for mercy on behalf of the sinner.

    I know most parents would offer themselves as a sacrifice to save their children from condemnation because they have unconditional love/charity toward their offspring. I explained that is how Christ loves us, but His love is greater than even a parent can comprehend.

    After the lesson was over one of the other Primary leaders told me that in all her life as a Mormon, she had never heard anyone speak on the servant in the Prodigal Son parable before. She loved it! Usually speakers focus on the repentance aspect of the story. (and someone had recently given a talk in Sacrament meeting on it as well)
    It’s those moments that make staying LDS worth it for me.

  5. Hi Seven!

    So glad you could venture over here. I look forward to interacting with you more. I LOVE your insight into the parable of the Prodigal Son. I’m totally going to steal it.

    The other one I think about a lot in the Mormon context is the parable of the laborers. Some come in at the beginning of the day, some in the middle of the day, and some at the end of the day — and the Lord pays them all equally. Those who came in first have a real hard time with that.

    I pray I can be among those who accept the laborers with open arms whenever they enter the vineyard.

  6. Oh, and if you’re interested in my interpretation of the “after all we can do” verse, I wrote a post about it here.

    Needless to say, I don’t think it means what we think it means. 🙂

  7. “The other one I think about a lot in the Mormon context is the parable of the laborers. Some come in at the beginning of the day, some in the middle of the day, and some at the end of the day — and the Lord pays them all equally. Those who came in first have a real hard time with that.

    I pray I can be among those who accept the laborers with open arms whenever they enter the vineyard.”

    OK, now I know what I’ll be reading to my kids tonight. 🙂
    Beautiful!

  1. Pingback: The Really, Really Good News for Mormons « i love mormons

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