From Utah with LoveSTEVE CLIFFORD
I am often asked what caused me to open myself to the Catholic Church and leave Mormonism. Another question I am frequently asked is how to go about speaking to Mormons. What will help to open their eyes to the truth?
As a Mormon, I knew all this was true. I knew the Great Apostasy happened. I knew Joseph Smith was a prophet of God and that he had been entrusted with the task of bringing to mankind the Book of Mormon, the divinely inspired Scriptures that were another testament of Jesus Christ. Most of all, I knew the Church Joseph Smith had restored and organized, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latterday Saints, was true. I knew all this by the power of the Holy Spirit.
After all, we Mormons just knew these things we had been taught by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was true.
Born and raised in Utah, the older of two children, I was brought up in a nominally religious home. Even so, religion played a major part in our lives. My parents were raised in Utah families with connections all the way back to the early Mormon pioneers who settled the Great Salt Lake Valley in the mid-1800s.
My great-great-great grandfather on my mother's side was probably the first in my family to join the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) on February 14, 1832, less than two years after Joseph Smith founded it. Grandpa Alva Benson convinced his wife, mother, father and father's family to join up in the winter of 1832. They moved to Jackson County, Missouri, but were driven out for being Mormons. In 1834, they traveled to Clay County to join with the main body of the Church. Four years later, they were again forced out of Missouri by a combination of militia troops and vigilantes after Governor Boggs issued his infamous "Extermination Order." The order charged the Saints with being in "open and avowed defiance of the laws and of having made war upon the people of this state." It mandated that "the Mormons must be treated as enemies and must be exterminated or driven from the State if necessary for the public peace — their outrages are beyond all description." My family eventually settled in Utah in 1852, five years after the Mormon pioneers arrived in the Salt Lake Valley under the leadership of Brigham Young, Joseph Smith's successor.
Young directed my family to settle in a high mountain area of the Wasatch Range in northern Utah. According to my great-great-great grandfather's account, "We met the Apostle Ezra T. Benson at the point of the mountain. We asked him what the privileges were in the valley and he said, 'Find the best place you can.' " They found that place on the southeast side of the Hyrum Valley, and established a 20-acre farm with about 12 or 15 other families. All of my extended family since those early pioneers were born and raised as members of the LDS Church. So it was only natural that my sister and I were brought up in the religion, as well.
Mormonism in Utah is not a Sunday religion, it's a way of life. School, social activities, scouting, dancing, music, theater and sports all revolve around the Church. My parents were not regular attendees, but were adamant that my sister and I not miss out on anything the Church had to offer. They paid their Fast Offerings and welcomed the visiting Home Teachers in an effort to maintain their ties with the Church and thereby remain in good standing. In those days, anyone who was less than an active member was ostracized by the majority. Approximately 77% of the population of Utah belonged to the Mormon Church, and my parents didn't want me or my sister to become one of those unmentionable, disenfranchised "others."
Mormons have a very carefully groomed image of family togetherness and steadfast moral values. Mormons believe that strong families make a strong nation, and strong nations make a strong world. They have a program called "Family Home Evening," in which each participating family sets aside one evening per week to gather and discuss issues concerning the Church. In fact, the goal of every faithful Mormon is to go to the temple and be sealed for time and eternity as a family unit. In order to enter the temple, each individual needs a "temple recommend" from his or her Bishop and Stake President. The recommend is only granted to Mormons in good standing with the Church, ie. those who live according to the strict moral and health requirements, pay 10% tithing, attend church regularly, etc.
In addition to ministering to its own members, the LDS Church has more than 50,000 men and women missionaries around the world dedicating two years of their lives, at personal expense and great sacrifice, to spreading Mormonism. The missionaries' appeal comes from their youthful appearance and enthusiasm and from the many social programs the Church offers.
Most members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have complete and unquestioning trust in all that is Mormon. They firmly believe that theirs is the only true Church on earth. It is their goal (and responsibility) to spread that belief to everyone else. As I was growing up, I had very little contact with people outside the LDS Church. The few non-Mormons I knew were viewed as outsiders and were treated differently than the members. Even Mormons who didn't attend church regularly or didn't live according to the Church's teachings were still considered somehow "better" than nonmembers. I experienced this social exclusion firsthand when I decided not to attend the Church-sponsored seminary program during my first year of high school.
Although it was outside the normal curriculum and even located across the street from the school, almost everyone who was Mormon went to the seminary classes. It was difficult for me to relate to my friends as they exchanged stories about what they were learning in seminary and the activities in which they were involved. I didn't make that mistake again! I participated in the three-year seminary program rather than the normal four years, and was once again content to find myself included in conversations with my friends.
In seminary, we studied LDS doctrine as communicated in the Scriptures or "Standard Works," as they're called. However, the Mormon Scriptures include a number of additions to the traditional Christian canon. All told, there are four volumes: the Bible (King James Version), the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price. Of the four, the Book of Mormon is held to contain the fullness of the everlasting gospel. Joseph Smith described it as "the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion." The Doctrine and Covenants consists primarily of revelations given to Joseph Smith, and is full of instructions regarding baptism for the dead, celestial marriage, priesthood and polygamy. The Pearl of Great Price is a collection of smaller writings and contains the 13 Articles of Faith, a summary of beliefs of the LDS Church.
From the Mormon perspective, there are three basic classifications of Christian churches. First is the Catholic Church, which claims it has had an uninterrupted existence since it was originally founded by Jesus Christ. Second are the Protestant churches, founded by reformers who believed that the original church fell into apostasy and that the gospel can be recovered through an intense study of the Bible. The third classification consists of those who believe that the church fell into total apostasy and could not be reestablished through reformation, but only through a restoration. This is the LDS position.
As a Mormon, it was easier to relate to members of the Protestant churches because they had a common disdain for the Catholic Church. I agreed with Protestants in their recognition of the Catholic Church as an apostate church, but felt they had only the corrupted Bible as their source for doctrine. It was easy to use the Bible to support the Mormon position where possible and then to claim that it was not translated correctly when it conflicted with LDS doctrine. This is the confidence that the Saints have in their faith.
When I left Utah in 1968 to join the military, the Mormon bishop gave me a metal dogtag. Engraved on one side was a picture of the Mormon Temple in Salt Lake City. On the reverse side were the words, "I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints." When times were hard, I would wear my dogtags with the Mormon medal as a reminder of my roots and my heritage. It gave me comfort to remember that I was at heart just a simple Mormon boy from Utah, protected from the evils of the world by my family, friends and church.
Nevertheless, over time I slipped away from regular participation in the Church, eventually becoming inactive. About a year later, I met Anne, a Catholic. We were married by a priest in Germany in 1971. Our two daughters were raised Catholic, and for many years I attended Mass, often as a musician with the choir. While stationed in San Francisco, I played guitar at the local Army chapel along with a Baptist piano player. We often joked that we knew the words to the Mass better than most Catholics.
Still, I had no intention of joining the Catholic Church. I continued to proudly proclaim my Mormon affiliation, even though I did not attend the services. I knew how much it meant to my family back in Utah that I remain a member of the LDS Church. While I dreaded visits from the Home Teachers, I always made sure that my church records followed me to my new duty station. But aside from my friendship with another Mormon service member, I kept my distance from the LDS Church.
We moved to Virginia in January of 1993 for an assignment at the Pentagon, and I began attending Mass regularly. I joined the contemporary choir because I enjoyed the music and thought it was a nice, neutral way to worship God. When asked to do a newsletter for the Schoenstatt Rosary Campaign, I jumped at the chance to display my computer talents. Through the preparation of the newsletter, I was first introduced to the rosary and to Mary's special role in the life, suffering and death of Jesus. I could not help but be touched by the things I was reading. I began to ask questions.
Anne was, of course, excited about my interest and started dropping Catholic literature around the house for me to find. Suspicious, I asked if she was trying to convert me. She said she was not and reminded me that she had never pressured me to become Catholic. For more than 22 years of married life, I had gladly called myself a Mormon, and I told Anne that I had no intention of becoming otherwise. "I was born a Mormon, I was raised a Mormon, and I'm going to die a Mormon!," I exclaimed. But something was happening to me. The power of the prayers that were being said for me by Anne and others was having an effect. The Holy Spirit was working.
On November 20, 1993, I sacrificed a Saturday to attend a seminar given by Scott Hahn. He told of how he assumed the role of a detective, attempting to prove once and for all that the Catholic Church was false. In the process of his studies, he became a Catholic. I remember thinking that obviously he did not do his research very well, or he would have become a Mormon instead. I decided to try the detective thing myself, just to prove the LDS case.
I began researching furiously. I read books on Mormonism, Protestantism and Catholicism. I listened to audio tapes and watched videos. I grabbed at anything I could get my hands on to confirm that the only true church on earth was the one restored by Jesus Christ to the "Prophet" Joseph Smith. Much to my chagrin, every direction I turned and on each point I investigated, I found overwhelming evidence against the Mormon position. I discovered that the Mormon claim of a "Total Apostasy" in the early Church was simply not true.
The overwhelming historical evidence supports the Catholic teaching on apostolic succession. It was first demonstrated in the replacement of Judas by Matthias (Acts 1:15-26). The chain has been unbroken from St. Peter to John Paul II (Matt. 16:18). Without a complete apostasy, there would be no need for a restoration.
Another truth I discovered through research is that there is only one God. I could no longer accept basic Mormon principles like a plurality of gods made of flesh and bone, God's past humanity and man's ability to progress to godhood. Through the mystery of the Holy Trinity, I began to understand that God has one divine nature in three persons: God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.
Lastly, I came to know that God is the first cause of everything, and that our souls and bodies are created at the moment of conception. I could no longer accept the Mormon plan of eternal progression, consisting of a premortal existence where each person is born into this world according to his previous merits in the spirit world. I realized nothing exists that does not owe its existence to God the Creator.
The next logical step was to see that Mary was created as the most exalted creature on earth. She was, after all, the daughter of God the Father, the spouse of God the Holy Spirit and the mother of God the Son. Through a better understanding of the virtues of the Blessed Virgin, we can more nearly follow in the footsteps of Jesus.
By Christmas, I was absolutely convinced that the Mormon Church was wrong. I was devastated! How could so many good people be so deceived? What about all the sacrifices my ancestors made for the Church? How could I turn my back on my heritage, my upbringing, my family and friends? I wanted to pretend I never started on this journey. I wished I could go back to the way things were, but it was too late. I had found the truth.
Upon deciding to become Catholic, I had a wonderful feeling of peace because I knew I was doing the right thing. God was prompting me along and giving me the grace to open my mind and heart to the truth of the real gospel.
At the same time, there was a tremendous battle raging around me that left me wondering what was going to happen next. I was challenged from all directions in what seemed like a concerted effort to prevent me from trusting God. The spiritual warfare even manifested itself in physical ways. About two weeks before my baptism, another driver ran into the back of my car. I was verbally attacked by members of my Utah family, as well as some of my coworkers in the Pentagon. On Ash Wednesday, I was heckled by my supervisor for having "dirt" on my forehead. The distractions and obstacles were constant and unrelenting. I kept reminding myself that I must be on the right track since all these obstacles were being thrown at me. I accepted my sufferings as the devil's last desperate attempt to steer me away from the true Church.
Not to be outdone, God gave me some loving affirmations that He was with me. One evening at church, I was overcome with joy and drawn almost uncontrollably to an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. I genuflected toward the tabernacle and made the sign of the Cross for the first time in my life. On Ash Wednesday, just days before my baptism, I had a moving experience that confirmed the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. During my first confession the next day, I received yet another spiritual nudge assuring me of the authority of the Pope as the Vicar of Christ. By that time, I had no problem discerning which combatant was sending which messages.
On February 19, 1994, I received the holy sacraments of baptism, confirmation, penance, first Communion and validation of the sacrament of matrimony performed more than 22 years earlier. It was a sacred day I will cherish forever.
I am often asked what caused me to open myself to the Catholic Church and leave Mormonism. I can point to a number of different things that happened simultaneously, but I cannot isolate any single event as having planted the first seed. Over the years, many seedlings had taken root in my mind and heart. Scott Hahn's lectures certainly poured on lots of water and food for thought, but the prayers of my wife and many others were undoubtedly the light that warmed and nurtured my budding faith.
Another question I am frequently asked is how to go about speaking to Mormons. What will help to open their eyes to the truth? Each person we encounter should be approached with a spirit of love and patience, not interrogation or rebuke. Know your Faith, live your Faith and be ever ready to explain your Faith. Plant the seeds of truth with humility and charity. There are countless loopholes and inconsistencies in Mormon doctrine that are easy targets of attack.
One good approach is to engage in a friendly discussion about the theory of the "Great" or "Total Apostasy." If no universal apostasy of the Church took place, the whole basis for Mormonism collapses. The New Testament clearly shows that Christ left a Church that would last until the end of time (Matt. 16:13-19). He told His Church, "Lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age" (Matt. 28:20).
The writings of the early Church Fathers (like Saints Clement, Ignatius, Justin Martyr, Polycarp and Irenaeus) are available in books like the three-volume set from William A. Jurgens entitled, The Faith of the Early Fathers [The Liturgical Press, Collegeville, MN, 1979]. These writings clearly indicate that the early Fathers did not teach distinctive Mormon doctrines (eg. plurality of gods, premortal existence, eternal progression, polygamy, baptism for the dead, celestial marriage), but rather, consistently upheld Catholicism (eg. the Mass as a sacrifice, the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, the primacy of St. Peter and his successors).
As you might imagine, it has not been easy for my family in Utah to accept my conversion to Catholicism. To my knowledge, I am the first of our family to officially leave Mormonism for the Catholic Faith. For this reason, my relationship with my relatives has been strained. Nevertheless, my wife and I continue to pray that they will someday understand why I chose to leave Mormonism for the true Church.
When we become followers of Christ, we must truly follow Him, no matter where He leads us or what we have to give up. We walk in the confidence that the things left behind cannot compare to the joy that lies ahead.
Steve Clifford "From Utah with Love." Envoy (June 1998)
This article is reprinted with permission from Envoy Magazine. All rights reserved.
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