I’d like to tell you more about my conversion story. This is a continuation of a post I shared about a week ago.
I had been thrown out of my house, but I was not worried. I stayed with my friend Tom in the Portland area for about a week. Then, under the inducement of Tom’s parents, my folks allowed me to move back home, but only until I graduated from high school the following spring. I was also forbidden to speak of Mormonism in my home. That didn’t really work out, because as my family’s persecution mounted, we had to talk about this new-fangled faith of mine, often with a lot of tension in the room.
This was a period of intense intellectual and emotional challenge for me. My family was determined to dissuade me from following my intention to be baptized. Because I was still a minor (I was 17), I could not be baptized without my parent’s permission and they would not grant it. Interestingly, I was only a few weeks off from my 18th birthday when all this happened, and when I reached the age of majority, I could legally choose for myself.
My family started piling anti-Mormon books and pamphlets on me. I was open to it and read as much of it as I could. I learned all about the “errors” of Mormonism—how their doctrines differed from the Bible, the “folly” of the Book of Mormon, plural marriage, including Joseph Smith’s, the Mountain Meadows Massacre, Brigham Young’s “lust,” the Church’s “corporate greed,” any argument against the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that either man or devil could conceive.
He that answereth a matter before he heareth it, it is folly and shame unto him. (Proverbs 18:13.)
It had the opposite of the desired effect. Instead of dissuading me, it persuaded me that what I had discovered was true.
The claims of these anti-Mormon texts were bitter, mocking, and vitriolic. These writers were grumpy for righteousness sake and I was not inured to their dissident voices. They were condemnatory and arrogant, and their writings seemed highly derivative, poorly documented, and sometimes contradictory. I could see, even as a naive teenage boy, the craft of these men and women. They had an agenda, and when you have an agenda, you leave out anything that doesn’t support your argument, which impressed me as being disingenuous.
All their claims seemed utterly false to me, trumped up, as if they were concealing something. I started researching both sides of the argument, and the deeper I dug, the clearer it became to me that the path I had chosen was right. This, of course, infuriated my family, but I was absolutely determined to find the truth, to prove to myself what was right or wrong. I wasn’t going to leave that to anyone else. No one should.
Every day after school, and for long hours on the weekends, I studied. I set up a small folding table in my bedroom with a desk lamp, and there I read, pondered, cross-referenced, and researched both anti-Mormon literature and the scriptures and other related works. I went to bookstores and libraries. I looked high and low. I left no stone unturned, at least the ones that I could find. The result? I gained a burning testimony that Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God, had restored His church through a farm boy from upstate New York.
But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear: Having a good conscience; that, whereas they speak evil of you, as of evildoers, they may be ashamed that falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ. For it is better, if the will of God be so, that ye suffer for well doing, than for evil doing. (1 Peter 3:15–17.)
The key for me was that I prayed constantly, not to prove one side wrong and the other right, but to know the truth and to learn how to live it. I had been backed up against a wall and came out swinging. I didn’t back down and I won this street fight, not with fists and fury, but with prayer and faith.
Let me give you one small example. I remember a claim that several books made against the Book of Mormon. They claimed that it was incorrect, even preposterous, for Joseph Smith to use a French word in his translation of the book. The word was the last word in the last verse of the last chapter of the book of Jacob, verse 7 of chapter 27. The word was adieu. Here is the last sentence of that verse:
And I make an end of my writing upon these plates, which writing has been small; and to the reader I bid farewell, hoping that many of my brethren may read my words. Brethren, adieu. (Emphasis mine.)
I didn’t accept this assertion (nor any other) at face value. I dove deep for an answer, through prayer and research. I’ve actually continued my research over the years, and I’d like to tell you what I think of this claim.
The word adieu, an expression of farewell, literally means “to God” in French and that fits well with what Jacob was trying to say. I later discovered that, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word first appeared in English as early as 1393 AD. I have since read the Book of Mormon in French and discovered for myself that many words in French found in the book are identical in English and many others vary in spelling only by one letter. If you do a little looking yourself, you’ll find that between 28 and 45 percent of English words are derived from French. I concluded that this claim against the Book of Mormon is not founded on a rock.
Every time I did this, that is, researched a claim against Mormonism, I came up with an answer that strengthened my faith rather than weakened it. It all depends on when and where you stop your research. As a general rule, I learned that if you quit your homework too soon, you’ll come up short.
And that really was the bottom line for me: recognizing the difference between bitter and sweet, darkness and light, pride and humility, grumpiness and happiness, agitation and peace. I chose to follow kind, accepting, open-minded, supportive, humble, rather than mean, invective, close-minded, unsupportive, arrogant. Therein lies the difference that made all the difference to me.
I don’t have all the answers but I don’t need all the answers. The important thing to me is how my heart feels. That is my “mettle” detector. When I follow my heart with integrity, repenting of my sins and leaving them behind, my intellectual questions are always answered. Always. And my inclination is to learn to do good and to be good, to help and not hinder, to forgive and not inveigh.
You can’t get grapes from thorns or figs from thistles. By their fruits you shall know them. It is really quite simple if you’ll let it be simple. (See Matthew 7:15–20.) This is where I stand and this is where I stay.
I continued to study the scriptures and uplifting books, counter-balanced with anti-Mormon literature. I got answers to my questions through constant study and prayer. I took the missionary discussions. Friday, November 14, 1975, was my 18th birthday. Against the wishes of my family, on the evening of my birthday, I was baptized and confirmed a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It turned out to be the best and most important decision I ever made in my life.
To be continued. I want to tell you about a cute girl that came to my baptism.