M2C Conversion Story - Mike
I found this conversion/reversion story on the Catholic Ex-Mormon boards on Yahoo. I asked Mike if I could post his story on my blog, and he not only said I could post it, but he edited it to make it more thorough and blog-friendly. Mike was a cradle Catholic who joined the Mormon church, only to come back home to the Catholic church a few years later. Thank you so much, Mike, for allowing me to get your story out!
So how does a cradle Catholic go from leaving the Holy Catholic Church for Mormonism only to find his way back home 5 years later? I hope that this brief story of my ‘reversion’ to Catholicism will serve two purposes: First, I hope that those that are joining, returning to or strongly considering and praying about becoming one with the Bride of Christ can appreciate the developmental process I had to go through to come to an understanding, or better yet, gain a testimony of the truthfulness of the Catholic Church. During my re-investigation period the testimonies and conversion stories of others were paramount in my return. Second, for those critically and judiciously investigating the doctrines and beliefs of the LDS church, I hope to expose the truths about the doctrinal developments in Mormonism over the last 200 years juxtaposed to Biblical Christianity.
For starters, here’s a little about my background. I grew up in a very strong Catholic family in East Central Ohio. A lot of my earliest memories consist of my family going to Mass together on Saturday evening and then spending Sunday together with extended family. Although I did not attend Catholic school, I was active in the CCD program until receiving the Sacrament of Confirmation at age 14. Through high school and during my undergraduate studies I never questioned Catholic doctrine; I looked at how the Church had strengthened my immediate and extended families. In hindsight, however, I never underwent a full conversion process allowing me to discover the fullness of truth that resides in Catholicism. Towards the end of high school I met a nice Catholic girl who would eventually become my wife. We were married in 1999 right before I started graduate school at the University of Iowa.
Within the first week of moving to Iowa City LDS missionaries made their way to our doorstep. Where I grew up there is virtually NO LDS population; I hate to confess this but upon my first encounter with the missionaries I did not know that Mormons were also Latter-day Saints. I had never heard of Joseph Smith or the Book of Mormon. Upon our first encounter I took a Book of Mormon and told the Elders that I was busy and that if they came back some day and I happened to be home I would talk with them. Within that academic year LDS missionaries and members of the LDS church were constantly in contact with us. It was pretty intimidating to say the least. We took the 6 missionary discussions; however, we were unconvinced at that point that Mormonism was true. Our ‘lessons’ with the Elders varied in quality considerably. There were, however, a handful of missionaries that were fairly well-versed in other aspects of Christianity other than Mormonism. During this time of ‘investigation’ I also stumbled upon Mormon apologetic groups such as FARMS and FAIR. It struck me how it always seemed – or at least they painted the façade – that Mormonism was always under attack, yet they were always on the defensive, defending the true Gospel of Jesus Christ. The format of the missionary discussions was also presented to make Mormonism appear like any other Christian church. As we would eventually discover, the pivotal doctrines that truly make Mormonism unique are cautiously not included in these initial discussions. Growing up Catholic, we wrestled with the doctrine of a “great apostasy’ necessitating a restoration of truth through Joseph Smith, Jr. (Even after our ‘conversion’ to Mormonism all of my questions were never completely answered.) In 2000-01 I was awarded a DAAD Fellowship to study in Marburg, Germany. It was during that time that we ran into LDS missionaries again and continued to investigate Mormonism. From the LDS apologetic material that we had found and read and from what we perceived at that time to be a ‘spiritual witness’ from the Holy Ghost, my wife and I decided to join the LDS church in March 2001. All together we had investigated Mormonism for almost 2 full years (ca. 22 months) and felt that we were doing the right thing.
In the fall of 2001 we moved to Lawrence, Kansas were I began my Ph.D. coursework at the University of Kansas. Upon moving to Kansas we became very active in the LDS church. I held callings as a ward missionary and councilor in an Elder’s Quorum Presidency, whereas my wife worked in the primary (Sunday school) program and eventually served in the Primary Presidency. The one thing we loved about the LDS faith was its encouragement to read the Scriptures (of course, the Catholic Church also calls its members to a life of active Scripture study). During our 2-year process as “eternal investigators’, we had become quite facile with the Scriptures. My wife and I feverishly participated in the Church Educational System’s (CES) Institute Program and graduated from the program with a 4-year diploma in only 3 years of course study. (We also co-taught a course on the Doctrine & Covenants.) We often accompanied the missionaries when they were meeting with lapse Catholics. We also attended the temple in St. Louis and Winter Quarters as much as possible.
One of the members of our ward that we were quite close with always spoke to us about a ‘spiritual’ conversion and a ‘social’ conversion. Although we had bought into the ‘spiritual’ side of Mormonism, we struggled mightily with what I term ‘social Mormonism’. Everyone was quick to point out to us what we should and shouldn’t be doing in our free time, how their personal version of Mormonism was more righteous than everyone else’s, etc. Being both converts we simply tried to do the right thing yet still really felt out of place. Looking back on things it was our ability to take a step back from the social aspect of Mormonism that enabled us to critically evaluate our newly adopted beliefs and return to Catholicism. In mentioning our disdain for Mormon culture, I don’t mean to paint too bleak of a picture; we did have quite a few friends – or those who we at least thought were our friends – during our time as members of the LDS church. As could have been expected, however, our departure from Catholicism led to a bit of a schism with our parents and immediate family. Although our parents respected our decision they were quite puzzled and disappointed with our decision. Having on our ‘Mormon blinders’ we couldn’t understand what possible problems our parents would have with us being active in another church? After all, we had found spiritual truth whereas they were just clinging on to what was familiar to them (at least in our minds). ‘Social Mormonism’ does an excellent job of making its members feel like they are the only ones who truly live an active Christian life of charity and service (cf. Mosiah 2:17), where as Catholics – as well as other ‘apostate’ Christian groups – are generally not active in their faith nor to they very often serve the greater community. I’ll come back to this point later in the story.
All was going fine in Mormonville for both Jill (my wife) and I until the spring of 2005. At this time Jill was a member of the Primary presidency and I was a councilor of an Elder’s Quorum presidency when the full-time missionaries met a postmaster who was a fallen away Catholic (for the sake of anonymity, let’s call him George). They missionaries inquired if I would meet with him, which I most certainly agreed to. From my first meeting with this guy it was clear that his life was in shambles and he was just looking for some companionship; his wife had recently left him and he was just one lonely guy. I was quite skeptical of the missionaries’ tactics with this guy knowing that he was at such a point in his life that he was most likely unable to make a leap of faith the magnitude of the missionaries’ desires. Although a fallen away Catholic, George was very well versed with official Catholic doctrine. He was so well read and learned in the Catechism that I purchased an official copy of the Catechism of the Catholic Church that summer so I could better understand his point of view. The clarity with which he explained Catholic doctrine was something I had never experienced before in my life. With that being said, I don’t mean to portray my parents as lazy Catholics who were unaware of doctrine nor do I blame my former CCD instructors; however, one thing was perfectly clear: I didn’t understand Catholicism as fully and deeply as I once thought I did. Many of my ‘concerns’ with Catholicism that lead to my ‘conversion’ to Mormonism turned out in the end not to be ‘concerns’ at all. An example of this would be the veneration of Saints; I never understood why we should pray to them. After re-reading the Book of Revelation (8:3) it was clear that the Saints did function in the role clearly explained by the Catholic Church. The list of instances such as these goes on and on. Rather than merely study Catholicism for the means of having ammo to convert George to Mormonism, I took the time to really learn the Catholic faith for the first time in my life. I turned quite often to the Early Church Fathers, in particular Father Jurgen’s excellent three-volume set on the writings of the Early Church Fathers (and even with three volumes he’s only just scratched the surface!). After turning to these sources, it became clear that Catholic rather than Mormon doctrines abound in early Christianity. LDS apologists are quick to scrape the bottom of the barrel or gerrymander obscure segments of apocryphal Christian works.
By the end of the summer I was convinced that I needed to take more time to re-investigate Catholicism; however, that seemed almost impossible to do. My calling eliminated a lot of my free time and every other waking moment I was consumed with writing my dissertation. (I also had a band – yes, a ROCK BAND – I told you that I wasn’t really into the ‘social Mormon’ scene! ) After finishing my doctorate, I accepted a position as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Michigan last fall (2005). At the end of the summer we also found out that we were expected our first child. My level of skepticism and dissidence with the LDS church had grown to a point where I had to talk to my wife about my feelings. At first she didn’t accept it well, even though we had always felt that something was missing and that we just didn’t ‘fit in’ with the whole Mormon scene. Upon her request, we decided to stick things out for a little while longer to see if the situation would improve. The minute we walked in the door at our new ward we had new callings. I was called to a Young Men’s presidency and Jill as a nursery teacher. Again, we had no time to really ponder our relationship with God, and discussing this with anyone would be simply out of the question for two reasons: First, any serious questioning of LDS dogma – be it honest or not – would most likely be viewed as a form of apostasy on our part. Second, the answers we had received in the past when issues like this had been brought up were very superficial and never really addressed our concerns.
There were two incidents immediately upon our arrival in Michigan that prompted our departure from the LDS church. Anyone who’s ever been involved with the LDS church or has Mormon friends is familiar with the “every member a missionary” slogan. Some people truly do care about their neighbors and handle their ‘responsibility’ to proselytize their friends, family and neighbors with dignity and respect; however, more often than not Mormons can be quite pushy about their church and beliefs. The ward mission was quite big on involving the youth in active missionary activities. At first I had no objections to this at all; I thought it was cool that teenage members of the church had the opportunity to expose friends of other faiths to our activities. It made us seem a lot less cult-like. That all changed really quickly. The Stake Young Men’s presidency provided us (the ward Young Men’s presidency) with a list of “less active” members and those who had requested to be placed on the “do not contact” (DNC) list. The Stake presidency had done their homework and had isolated families with teenage children. Our responsibility was to encourage our youth to befriend the children of these ‘fallen away’ Mormon families, even if it meant disregarding their wishes to not have contact with the church. The immediate thought that raced through my head was “Is this legal?” Rather than keeping my thoughts to myself, I asked the question, which of course was greeted with a rather suspicious look from the Stake Young Men’s president. He was all too happy to inform me that this was a “loophole” in the system through which we could potentially maintain contact with these families. I was appalled. The second event that led me to leave Mormonism was simply a phone call from the missionaries. They were working with a young Catholic family and wanted to know if I could accompany them to perhaps inform them of my own spiritual journey. I knew right then and there that my faith in Mormonism had been shaken and that I could lie to that family. I respectfully declined citing a prior commitment interfered. The event with the Young Men’s presidency also shook my wife’s faith considerably. After that event she began to earnestly re-investigate the teachings of the Catholic Church and realized that we had been hoodwinked by the romantic edited version of Mormonism that we had been spoon fed. In the beginning my wife was much more skeptical than I was about Mormonism. As a matter of fact, if it would have been up to me, I would have joined much earlier than I did. I respect her spirituality a lot and knew that if we felt the same way about this that we needed to talk to our bishop.
So we scheduled an appointment with our bishop to discuss our ‘concerns’. He followed protocol and asked us to turn in our Temple Recommends and asked us if either of us were here due to being offended by another member of the ward or due to gross misconduct on our part. In other words, before even hearing us out it was thrown at us that some how this had to be our fault. We had put our hearts and souls into the LDS church and to have someone flat out ask you that really hurt. We said that we wanted to search out our feelings about returning to the Catholic Church. He respected our wishes but subsequently bombarded us with missionaries, home teachers (funny that they never showed up prior to this meeting!), visiting teachers, etc. that became so overwhelming that we requested to be put on the “do not contact” (DNC) list immediately thereafter.
To make sure that our ‘feelings’ weren’t misleading us again, we decided to attend Mass regularly at a parish called Christ the King in Ann Arbor, Michigan. After participating (and that’s the key word) in the celebration of the Mass we both knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that we needed to return to the Bride of Christ, the Holy Catholic Church. We immediately contacted the Priest and had a few meetings with another Deacon. After telling them the details of our spiritual journey and our experiences with Mormonism they both felt that upon receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation we could once again fully participate in all of the blessings and Sacraments provided under Christ’s true Church.
Our break up with the LDS church has been messier than I would have imagined. We harbor no ill feelings towards the church or any individual members; however, they have fought us tooth and nail regarding our desire to leave. We have tried to clear the air that our desire to recommit ourselves to Christ through the Holy Catholic Church is not due to anyone offending us or due to our inability to “live the gospel” due to any grave transgressions that we have committed. Our return to Catholicism is solely due to its centered belief in Jesus Christ and the truthfulness of its doctrine and teachings. Many of our former LDS ‘friends’ have written us off completely, but it just goes to show that they really didn’t care about us in the first place.
Since our re-version to Catholicism I have had the privilege of talking to other Catholics in forum settings about honest theological differences between Catholicism and Mormonism. We have even helped a couple that was struggling with their Catholic faith and strongly considering joining the LDS church to return to activity in the Catholic Church. In the future we will undoubtedly become more active in our new parish (we’re moving again…this time I’ve accepted a position as an assistant professor at Michigan State University); however, for the time being we’re enjoying our role of strengthening our relationship with God – something we NEVER had time to do in the LDS church. Perhaps sometime in the not-too-distant future we will become involved in RCIA or some other faith-promoting venture such as an adult Bible study; however, for the time being, we’re just happy to be back!
This weekend our 3-month old daughter Abigail will be baptized by the priest who married us almost 7 years ago. We are elated that our daughter will have the opportunity to learn the truth about God and His relationship with the human family. For those of you entering, returning to or seriously considering joining the Catholic Church I hope that our story will help you in your journey of faith. Although as a member of the Catholic Church you will not receive a formal calling from local clergy, you will have the opportunity to participate in the Mass. Your participation will be aligned with the celebration that also occurs in heaven (cf. Book of Revelation). Unlike Mormon meetings where spontaneous talks are given on a wide array of topics ranging from food storage to tithing and Mormon chapels were the pulpit is the centerpiece of the room, the Holy Catholic church focuses solely on the worship of Jesus Christ. At the center of Catholicism is the altar where the Great High Priest Himself invites us to partake of Holy Communion with Him. At the celebration of the Eucharist we are invited to “come unto Christ” (cf. Moroni 10:32) in a way unavailable to Mormons. I am thankful to once again be a member of the Bride of Christ. If there’s anything I can do to help any of you in your journey of faith, don’t hesitate to be in touch!