Peter’s Shadow. Jail Breakout. A Flogging. Spread It Out.
“Peter and the other apostles replied: ‘We must obey God rather than human beings!’”
Acts 5:29 (NIV)
Dana was a Mormon, and everyone knew it. She projected it to the world proudly, sure, but it was something in her demeanor. High school was the time when everyone – Christian to atheist – started dropping curse words, but her language was always squeaky clean with “goshes,” “darns,” and “freak its.” Dana was nice to everyone, even the kids with no friends. She led sign language club and convinced me to join – she seemed particularly passionate about communicating with a deaf student who took some classes with us. She never wore sleeveless dresses – she even convinced our drama instructor to allow her a “modest” outfit while singing “Hey, Big Spender” in our spring musical (a song sung exclusively by prostitutes). All of these attributes were synonymous with the word “Mormon.” Mormons never cursed, were always polite, and acted charitably.
We also dated for a little bit – not relevant to the story, but whatever.
I asked my mother if she would go to Heaven. This is a recurring theme in my life – seeing someone morally upstanding who isn’t technically a Christian, and then asking my mother to make a value judgment. She balked at the question. What exactly do Mormons believe again?
The differences between mainstream Christianity and Mormonism are vast. They believe Jesus took a second ministry in the Americas immediately following his ascent into Heaven from Israel. Joseph Smith testifies to this when he finds buried Golden Plates that recorded “Round Two.” They believed in polygamy but don’t anymore (and haven’t for over 100 years). They also think that when Mormons die, they get to run their own planet – or something like that. All that aside, the most crucial difference is dogma. Mormons do not believe that Jesus is God. In fact, Joseph Smith edited the New Testament into the “Joseph Smith Translation” which strikes all of those references. On that basis alone, Dana cannot go to Heaven. Followers must believe in the “Jesus is God” idea.
When I learned all of that, I worried for Dana. Sure she was nice, and sure acted in a traditional Christian manner. But how could she believe such nonsense of Jesus?
In the Book of Acts, the apostles often speak in one voice. “Peter and the other apostles replied, ‘We…’” yada yada. I wondered about that, about how they managed to continue to grow in numbers in the face of such adversity.
Spiritual reasons aside, it must have been the community. Religion is often vilified in liberal culture, but I think it provides immense value. If a person is generally kind to his or her neighbor and reaches out to those in need, then I am willing to forget homophobic ideals. Sometimes, I need to remember the big picture. Communities like these can certainly cause damage, but then sometimes, they also provide incredible meaning and purpose. This is a tough gray area that I often have trouble reconciling.
Two weeks ago, my friend Cate and I rode our bikes past the Mormon Temple in Washington DC. The building was slate gray with four pointed spires that dissolved into a sharp point at the top, maybe 15 stories up. We both shuddered at the utilitarian feel, lent especially by the lack of windows. Except one. On the bottom floor near the entrance, one canopy window sat with its blinds drawn. Men dressed in white robes stood in a circle, eyes closed, probably in prayer. Cate told me she needed to pee. I told her they didn’t let people inside, so we’d have to find a place in the woods. She looked around for somewhere to do it nearby. I suggested we do it off the grounds of the church, but she really needed to go. We rode off.
And within five seconds, my bike chain snapped. Maybe they do have the Holy Spirit on their side.