I was having lunch with my friend, Sue, recently and we got to talking about our relationship with the LDS Church throughout our lives. We’re both Mormons in our 50’s, so our experience is long enough to make some general observations and comparisons. We’re both committed, practicing church members, but our underlying motivations differ. Or maybe they don’t. That’s what I want to talk about with you today.
Sue has been a church member all of her life, raised in the truths and traditions of the gospel. She admits that her church activity is largely based on habit, and even supposes that had she not been born into a Mormon family, she likely would not have embraced the gospel. I have many close friends, and even family members, who echo her sentiments. For them, the church is a wonderful framework for a life of ritual devotion, service to others, rich community, and protection from some of the world’s pernicious traps. I can’t find a thing wrong with this approach. But nor can I understand it.
No, I take that back. Although I am a convert to the LDS Church, I come from a long line of devoted Christians. My great-grandfather, a Methodist minister, christened me as a baby. Two of my cousins are in the clergy. I grew up attending church every Sunday, so I have strong religious habits and traditions myself. But being a Mormon is different from my family traditions. It requires a stronger commitment to religious practice. My participation in the LDS Church is entirely intentional, the result of my spirit’s instinctive search for truth. For me, and for most other converts (like Sue’s husband) church activity is far less habit and much more choice. We tend to be a little intense about our approach to gospel living because we are largely driven not by tradition, but by our visceral need to know the truth.
Truth be told, I am not actually sure that this distinction (convert or lifer) has anything to do with the differences I note in people’s religious motivations. Maybe it is simply a difference in order, or timing. Converts come to the Church because they are seeking truth, and lifelong members seek truth at some point because they are members of the Church.
So maybe the difference isn’t in how people come to be members of the Church. Maybe some people are innately truth-seekers, due to their premortal history or their basic spiritual makeup. But not all faithful saints, whether convert or lifelong member, are interested in truth. Some of us are keenly interested in correct doctrine, in understanding how things really are — or should be — and that is a continual, driving pursuit. Others simply can’t drum up concern about such things. I know and love many faithful saints who show up, do their duty, serve the best they can, and couldn’t care less whether women are supposed to be ordained to the priesthood, or if we can progress to higher heavenly kingdoms after mortality. But some of us care deeply about finding answers to such questions.
I know it’s not as simple a dichotomy as “truth-seekers” and “trusting followers”. All true saints care about both truth and trust. It makes me think of this favorite bit of scripture from Doctrine and Covenants 46:
11 For all have not every gift given unto them; for there are many gifts, and to every one is given a gift by the Spirit of God.
12 To some is given one, and to some is given another, that all may be profited thereby.
13 To some it is given by the Holy Ghost to know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that he was crucified for the sins of the world.
14 To others it is given to believe on their words, that they also might have eternal life if they continue faithful.
My observation is that those with the gift of knowing Jesus Christ tend to be the questioners, the ones endowed with a burning need to know divine truth. And those with the gift of believing seem to have an enviable, gentle kind of faith, a willing trust in the faithful traditions they’ve been taught. Sometimes people think that believing is not as cool a gift as knowing, but that’s not so. Both are spiritual gifts and I choose to believe that God gives us the gifts that will best bless us and consequently, those we love and serve.
I notice, too, that truth-seekers tend to be future-oriented, always looking ahead to the “improved” version of life, the expansion of knowledge. They seem to need experiential evidence of truth, but when they get it, they cannot be shaken from their knowledge of what is true. Trusters tend to look back to the past with a faith-of-our-fathers sort of approach, looking for models to emulate. They seem to be able to rely on other people’s experience as a basis for belief.
What do you think about truth, trust and tradition?. Do you have the gift of knowing or believing? Are you a convert, a lifelong member or a non-church-member? A truth-seeker or a traditionalist? And if, as I presume, you acknowledge a mix of all of these in yourself, how do you balance truth-seeking, trust and tradition? What motivates you to spiritual activity?