I must begin by telling a personal story about a dear friend, who is my primary point of contact with the Latter Day Saints. This friend was a young girl when her generous parents hosted my husband and our young family in their home (along with several other young couples our age). Their home was by no means a mansion, yet they were willing to let extra people squish in and live rent free as a way to save for the future. They helped us to slog away enough cash to eventually put a down payment on building a home of our own. During our two years with this family, we enjoyed a wonderful atmosphere of Christian community. Even though we didn’t all attend the same church (we were at an Anglican Church while our hosts were long attendees of Quaker meeting), there was no doubt in the household that we all loved the Lord Jesus Christ, albeit in our own vastly varying ways.
Even after we left this community household, we certainly kept in touch with this family. As little D–– (I will respect her privacy) grew up before our eyes, she remained sweet, bright, talented and happy. An interesting aspect about D––’s family is that her paternal grandmother had, rather late in adult life, (certainly before D–– was born), divorced D––’s grandfather and married another woman. The family was ‘open and affirming’ of this relationship, and this atmosphere left a door wide open for my young friend to explore other sexual identities through high school. When D–– graduated, she headed west to Utah for college as a lesbian.
At her college in Utah D–– of course encountered the Latter Day Saints. She was deeply impressed with the love of Christ she saw displayed in this immense community of believers. They won her deep respect, and eventually she shed her rather ‘wide open’ Quaker beliefs and values to join her Mormon friends in study and worship. Eventually she converted, and now lives very happily with her husband and toddler as members of the Latter Day Saints. She is deeply grateful for being pulled off the path she was going down, as it would have barred her from the life she is now so happy with.
Interestingly, D–– and I have much more in common now than we did when she was a Quaker Christian in high school. We can easily converse about faith and morals and striving to live ‘the good life’ with family and friends. She is a deep thinker, and has much to say about the various social pressures and influences that almost hindered her life as a wife and mother in that most traditional sense.
Why do I tell you all of this? Well, because I think it highlights what I perceive to be the great strength of the Latter Day Saints: their vibrant community life. They share the love of Christ so tangibly with one another that it makes deep impressions on those looking in from the outside. As Dr. Millett put it, “As vital as personal devotion and individual effort are, Christianity is fully lived out only in community.” And I know from my friend D–– that following Jesus is not merely about Sunday worship, but also a practice of virtuous life seven days a week. Dr. Millett also explained, “Without the Church and Church affiliation and involvement, one simply cannot cultivate the gospel light that emanates freely and enticingly from those who are on the path to life eternal.” This communal pursuit of virtue looks very different from the pursuits of the world, and for young people trying to find a path in life, moving in this direction must feel like stepping off of shifting sand onto solid rock.
While I am about a decade and a half older than my dear friend D––, I can say that it is thanks to the Latter Day Saints that we can now enjoy a rich friendship as peers. We have much to say about the joys and challenges of being wives and mothers, and about what it means to follow Christ in a world that sometimes feels like it is going off the rails.
All of this, however, does not confront an elephant in the room. There is much that the Catholic Church has deemed heretical about what the Latter Day Saints believe. I am likewise sure there is much about my tradition which the Latter Day Saints must condemn. Yet, I read Dr. Millett’s posting with nodding approval the whole way through. I can affirm all he said about what following Jesus should entail. I actually had no idea that his tradition enjoys weekly communion as part of their services. In Millett’s words, “Each Sabbath Latter-day Saints come to church and partake of the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. We do so in remembrance of the life and mission of Our Master, Jesus Christ.” I think I am right to assume that while Dr. Millett uses the word Sacrament, our traditions don’t see eye to eye on what happens on the altar on Sundays. Still, it is interesting to me that we are on the same page as regards the frequency of this practice.
There are a hundred more questions to ask about the other places our traditions differ! The sacrament of Baptism, for example, comes to mind as a place where there are known differences. I am only informed by a sort of hearsay about the actual praxis of the Latter Day Saints, and so it feels fruitless to speculate about much. I think we all need Dr. Millet to take the lead here. I also have questions about history…not so much about the history of the Mormons, but more about how they now view the oldest parts of the history of the Church. Are there any early church Fathers they draw on? Which Protestant traditions do they most resonate with theologically? Which parts about the Catholic faith pose the most problems for them? Are there places where the Catholic Church and the Latter Day Saints are in more agreement than other Protestant denominations? All of this remains rather a mystery to me.
I have so appreciated Dr. Millett’s responses all the way through our conversation on following Jesus. His ability to find common ground and to highlight the love of Christ that can be shared among believers bespeaks a magnanimous soul. I certainly welcome the opportunity to dig in a little more to shed light on differences as well. It is true that my friend D–– and I enjoy a very solid and loving friendship without talking much about the places we disagree theologically. I suspect it would be easy to simply find our places of agreement in this conversation and leave it at that too. And yet, I do also believe that a real pursuit of truth beckons us on! If we cling to the love of our Savior we can surely handle a fearless discussion about the places our traditions diverge.
I offer this respectfully, and with a deep appreciation of Dr. Millett’s work on this project. I think he very amiably captures so much truth about what it means to be a Christian when he quotes one of his church leaders: “Since Jesus is at the very center of it all…we must make Him and His ways the light by which we steer and the light we hold up to others. To proceed in any other way is to proceed with less light—much less light.” Dr. Millet then adds in his own words, “It is the sweet labor of a lifetime to learn how to place the Savior at the center of our lives and to keep Him there. That abundant life here is but a foretaste of the eternal life that awaits us hereafter.” I couldn’t agree more. May we all continue to seek this abundant life!