Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Biggest Shock of My Life

Last week, on the same day as the 5.8 earthquake that shook the eastern seaboard of the United States from Boston to Atlanta (with Washington, D.C. getting the biggest impact), I received my own shockwaves. My dad had sent me a letter that I had received on Tuesday. All the letter said was that I now had a relative who was a Mormon. That relative was my brother, who had gotten baptized on July 30th. Wow...and I'm just now finding out about it? I had just talked to my brother on Sunday and in our short conversation, he did not even mention it. When he called back and left a message, I didn't bother listening to it until this past Saturday. The message was also a shock. Basically, my brother disowned me, saying that I was officially dead to him. At the end of his nasty diatribe, he said: "One more thing. I'm a Mormon now so ha-ha-ha!"

Ha-ha-ha?!? He said it as though he would say: "I won the lottery and you're not getting a penny so ha-ha-ha!" Had he told me this in conversation, I would've replied, "The joke is on you, Chris!" And it is. I don't know his reasons for joining, but I have my theories. However, because my brother has a long history of falling for every get-rich-quick scheme, this is just one more "scheme" that he has fallen prey to, so I shouldn't be surprised.

The reason this news came as a complete shock to everyone is because out of all of my dad's side of the family, if anyone was likely to join the Mormon church, everyone would suspect that person would be me. I've been the most fascinated with Mormons since elementary school. I even partook of the LDS sacrament when we visited a Mormon ward when I was in the 2nd grade (while my brother abstained). I've had Mormon friends since elementary school and at every stage of my life experience (high school, the Navy, college, internship, and post-college jobs). I get along with Mormons for the most part and share some personal values. I understand Mormons and am a great defender when evangelical Christians call them a cult or say that they aren't authentic Christians.

So, if I'm such a "Mormon lover", why did I not join their church? Well, I actually came very close to doing so in 1994 when I was meeting with Missionaries in Italy. The Missionaries were the same age as me and they shared my morals, which I found lacking among the sailors I served with. Then they made a mistake. They asked me to pray which church was true (the LDS or the RLDS church?). I did as they requested and I received one of the most profound and clearly unmistakable answers ever. The answer came back: "Do not join the LDS Church. The RLDS Church is your home and if you stay with them, you will never regret it." When I shared with the Missionaries the answer I had received, one of them automatically dismissed the answer as being from Satan, playing a trick on me. I was put off by that answer, because it did not feel like a trick. In the years since, I can say without a doubt that I am glad that I did not join the LDS Church. I have met so many awesome members of the RLDS / Community of Christ that I would not have met had I switched. Of course, I probably would have met plenty of awesome Mormons, but I'm not really interested in trading all the fellow RLDS I've met since 1994 (which includes my best friend Nathan and his awesome family, Jenet, Christine, and everyone in YAPS and MAYAs).

My experience at BYU allowed me to "peek behind the curtain" and learn LDS doctrine without having to join. I'm sure that the admissions board thought for sure that accepting an RLDS student to their school would result in a conversion (a loss in the RLDS column and a gain in the LDS column), but they were wrong. Even getting to know a woman who was everything I was looking for in a wife was not enough to get me to convert. I had seen a few non-LDS students who went to BYU because of their Mormon significant others end up getting baptized into the church for the sake of love. I guess I'm just wired differently. I'd rather be single for the rest of my life than join another church for the sake of a woman. Because I believe in the Golden Rule, I would never expect any woman I dated and wanted to marry to join my church and I expect the same courtesy. I can attend church with her half the time and appreciate her traditions, but I won't give up the church of my family heritage. That's what a strong loyalty gene does to one's psyche!

So, why did my brother join the Mormon church? This is a baffling mystery. For as long as I've known my brother, he has leaned more towards evangelical Christianity. When our dad made us attend the protestant youth group meetings at our base chapel when we lived in Germany, I hated it while my brother loved it. I questioned the views of the youth group leaders, especially when they tried to get us to give up our secular music in favour of cheesy Christian pop (this was back in the 1980s when Christian pop was horrendous. By the 1990s, though, it actually became pretty good). My brother went along with whatever while I was in open rebellion. To this day, I have a longstanding hostility towards evangelical Christianity and it always baffles me when fellow church members try to incorporate evangelical Christianity into their teaching curriculum or worship styles. This is especially the case at the Atlanta North Community of Christ Congregation. Its a Community of Christ congregation in the Bible Belt, competing against the Southern Baptists and the Methodists for relevance. I'm of the opposite view. I feel a spiritual bond with other marginalized churches, such as the Mormons, the Quakers, the Unitarian Universalists, the Buddhists, and even the Jehovah's Witnesses. Evangelical Christians seem to hate us all, for being false Christians or cults or whatever derogatory, judgmental falsehoods they believe us to be.

In Portland, my brother had fallen into such a group. I attended my first three Sundays in Portland in 2006. I admired the number of young people who attended each week. I loved that they had a live band to sing contemporary praise songs (well, except for the one: "There Is Power in the Blood of the Lamb" or something along those lines). But when the sermon came, it was filled with hate-hate-hate. The first week was directed at Mormons being false Christians in cahoots with Satan. The second Sunday I attended was the claim that ALL Muslims wanted to kill each and every one of us! The third Sunday I attended was a knock on Buddhists and another hateful comment about Mormons. After that, I was done. My brother was disappointed that I did not see this church how he saw it. But around that time, an issue of Willamette Week (an alternative weekly newspaper) had a cover article on fraudulent people. One of the featured rogues was the pastor's husband! They had his photo, which is how I recognized him. Basically, he had pled guilty to committing fraud against undocumented workers, getting paid money to help them get legal documents to work in this country, then claiming bureaucratic red tape when they did not get such documents. What a scam.

When I pointed it out to my brother, he naturally got defensive. In fact, it became very difficult to discuss anything with my brother because he would always get upset. He even got upset over the movie The Da Vinci Code! When he moved apartments, a young couple from this evangelical church helped him move. The young lady kept trying to get him to throw away his dream catcher (with a wolf picture on it) because it was "New Agey" (her words). Wow...this church was crazy! During the three weeks I had attended, I asked questions to the pastor about their affiliation. They claimed to be an independent, non-denominational church. I know some evangelical types who take pride in belonging to a non-denominational church because they seem to think something is wrong with a denomination. However, for me, a part of the reason why I love the Community of Christ is because we have congregations all over and members are well connected with one another. Its easy to feel part of a community no matter where you move to if there is a congregation nearby. Non-denominational churches do not have that national or international network. Though, I learned later that this non-denominational church had some kind of tie to Pat Robertson's organization.

My brother often brought up Pat Robertson's name in conversation in the past few years. Even if I tell him that I'm not interested, he keeps bringing him up. Unfortunately, though, my brother's obsessive talk about Pat Robertson got my mother curious and she began watching the 700 Club and sees nothing wrong with it! My mom, though, is unaware of Pat Robertson's political agenda, which makes him one of the wolves that Jesus had warned his followers about. Robertson is less a religious leader than a charlatan and a political propagandist. He is a shady person with his hands tied to dictators in Africa, who have no problems committing genocide. How can anyone mistake Robertson for a Christian?!?

What my brother probably does not know is that Robertson had published a book where he answers people's questions. I read it when I was in the Navy. Someone had asked him about marrying a Mormon. His response was "When you marry a Mormon, you get Satan for a father-in-law." He then explained what he meant, but that phrase always stuck with me.

So, how does my brother go from this Mormon-hating evangelical church to getting baptized as a Mormon? That's the ultimate question. Something happened to my brother last year. He won't tell me all the details. All I know is that someone he knew stole a thousand dollars or more from him, which caused him to not pay his rent and he got evicted from his apartment and had to move into the apartment of some guy he knows, who he owes a lot of money to. It didn't sound like a good living condition. When we last saw each other over New Year's, I was shocked by how "dark" his disposition was. He was so unhappy and he ranted on about everything with a kind of hatred I've never seen in him before. It was too much for me. I had just gotten out of a negative office environment, so I am unable to "absorb" anyone's negative energy anymore. I don't want to be around negative energy. Its very damaging to one's psyche. Maybe some might not think I'm a good brother, but I just couldn't deal with him anymore. Especially when he hasn't been truthful about his situation.

My theory is that my brother was seeking the kind of family that the Mormon church promises, which his life experience has failed to deliver on. Our family isn't a great one and even I have my frustrations with it. I feel like an emotional orphan and a lot of the reason why I'm such the independent type is because I've had to fend for myself. The Mormon Missionaries were also nice to him, but that's their job. People shouldn't mistake a Missionary for an authentic friendship because their goal is to get a baptism. My brother's friends are so horrendous that he truly needed a good friend. Someone who won't take advantage of him. I think the Mormons will be that and more for him. He'll now have a place to go for Thanksgiving and Christmas. He'll have the kind of support and structure he needed. Mormons, for the most part, are good people. They are more likely to help him than hurt him.

I'm actually fine that my brother is a Mormon. But there are a few things that I hope he does not do. #1) He has no right or authority to baptize our dead grandparents. They were devoted members of the RLDS Church and had no interest in the Mormon Church. Baptizing the dead by proxy is offensive, not to mention irrelevant (as I don't believe the LDS Church is "the one true church"). #2) I don't want Missionaries sent to my door. I'm not interested. These kids are substantially younger than me now. It was different when they were older than me or the same age, but now that I'm old enough to be their father, not to mention that I know their scripts, it would be a waste of everyone's time. They want baptisms and they won't be getting it from me!

The final concern that came to mind is...wouldn't it be ironic if he ended up meeting "School Marm" at a Ward function and they fell in love with each other and got married? That would make her my "sister-in-law" and that would truly be hell! However, the chance of that is very remote. I don't think she would be attracted to him nor do I think he would be attracted to her. However, knowing that the universe sometimes works in mysterious ways, I would never say never on that possibility. It's likely to be remote, but if such an event happens, I'd have to do everything I could to sabotage it.

My biggest theory on why my brother joined the Mormon Church is that he was likely promised an eternal wife. We'll see if that comes to pass. Not sure when we'll talk again (he did disown me, after all), but I really wish that he would've asked me first about Mormon theology. I can't see this lasting very long. My brother is like a yo-yo. He can only tolerate so much of other people's control of him before he rebels. He may have taunted me with his childish mocking laugh, but the joke is truly on him. He joined an authoritarian church. He'll have to give 10% of his income and be interviewed by the bishop every year, who will ask intrusive questions. He'll be given callings / duties and be expected to attend the three hour church service every week (one hour is the sacrament meeting, one hour is the Sunday school class, one hour is the Priesthood meeting). He'll have to wear Temple undergarments all the time. After a year, if he lasts that long with their demands, he'll be eligible to get his Temple Endowment, which is a ritual that I simply cannot see him enduring. Yep, the joke is on him. If he joined the LDS Church to "spite me", he had the wrong motive. I got to see what Mormonism was all about when I was at BYU and I walked away. As much as I love Mormons on a personal basis, as much as I had wanted to be a Mormon for a brief moment when I was 22, their religion simply fails the test of logic. The diagram below shows just how absurd the concept of men becoming gods of their own world truly is. If I never speak to my brother again, I wish him well in his decision. May this be the last scheme you ever fall prey to!




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