Growing up in the LDS church, there was no mistaking that we believed we belonged to the One True Church. D&C 1:30, a revelation from God to Joseph Smith, says the LDS church is “…the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth…” Part of that belief is that the only way to live with God and your family after death is to be a member of the LDS church, and to receive all the saving ordinances God requires. These ordinances include baptism, laying on of hands for the gift the Holy Ghost, getting your temple endowment, and being sealed to a spouse in an LDS temple. The Book of Mormon talks about “the great plan of happiness” which I understood to mean you could only be truly happy as a member in the LDS church.
Sharing the Great Plan of Happiness…with Already Happy People
I served a two year LDS mission in Germany. I was trying to help people realize they needed to join the LDS church so they too could enjoy all the blessings of the gospel in this life, and then be with God and their families in the next life. The problem was, most people in Germany already seemed pretty happy. They went to school, they had families, they worked, they went on vacations, they were generally good to others, they enjoyed life. Like anyone else, people had problems they had to deal with. But I could go days without talking to anyone who felt like they needed religion. “If only they knew how much happier they could be if they would join the church!” I would think to myself. I worked really hard, and I did find people to teach. Those few who joined the church were mostly looking for some kind of fellowship in the church. And I do think some of them were happier for joining the church. But was that because of the blessings only to be found in the LDS church, or was it because they had found new friends to embrace them and help them through hard times?
If the Book of Mormon Is True, the LDS Church Is True. Or…?
I was taught in the MTC that if we could get investigators to gain a testimony of the Book of Mormon, then we could help them understand that meant Joseph Smith was a prophet. That would then mean the LDS Church was the true church restored by God. I never questioned this logic until my disaffection in early 2015. But now I see different possibilities. If the Book of Mormon is true, how do we know which church is true from the churches that believe in the Book of Mormon? There are many splinter churches that believe in the Book of Mormon. How do we know that Brigham Young was leading the true church? After Brigham Young and his followers left for the Great Basin, there were thousands of people still living in Nauvoo and surrounding areas who continued to believe in the Book of Mormon. Some followed James Strang, some followed Sidney Rigdon, and others felt like Joseph’s Smith’s church had gone astray by continuing to practice polygamy. Emma Smith, Joseph Smith’s widow, fell into this camp. Later in 1860 some people created The Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (known today as Community of Christ) and recognized Joseph Smith III as the true successor to Joseph Smith, Jr. Emma was accepted as a member of this church after her son became the RLDS prophet. Today there are many offshoots of the original church that Joseph Smith founded. Even if the Book of Mormon is true, how is someone supposed to know which one is true?
When I first told my Bishop I no longer believed the church was true, he asked me “Then where is Christ’s church on the earth? The one that had the same organization that Christ set up when he was here?” At the time I really had no idea, so I told him “I don’t know.” If the LDS church is the true church with Jesus Christ at the head, let’s take a look at some numbers to see how effective it is. As of this writing, the world’s population is 7.3 billion. The LDS church currently says it has 15.3 million members. So what percentage of the world is LDS? 15.3 million / 7.3 billion = 0.21%. If you count only actively attending members (some estimates put it at 36%) you get 0.08%. So only 0.08% of God’s children on earth are truly happy, and get to enjoy God’s choicest blessings while they’re still living? The rest have to wait until some time in the millennium when the church finally does their temple work?
Or Maybe There Is No True Church
I read once how some LDS missionaries have a hard time in Asia trying to get people to even understand the concept of a true church. Maybe it’s a western idea that a “true church” is even a thing. What if there are many paths to God, or the divine, or enlightenment, or whatever your culture wants to call it? As of 2010, Muslims made up 1.6 billion people. In 2013, there were 1.2 billion Catholics. In 2012, there were over 1 billion Hindus. In 2010, there were about 500 million Buddhists. I see good and even truth in all of these ways of life. I grew up learning about Jesus Christ, so that’s the language that makes the most sense to me. I call it my mental bridge to the divine. If I had grown up in some other culture or some other religion, I would have a different mental bridge. But I don’t see any one bridge as the only bridge that brings true happiness.
A few weeks ago I went to a Community of Christ worship service. Back when they were the RLDS church, they claimed to be the one true church because they believed Joseph Smith III was the rightful heir to lead Joseph Smith, Jr.’s church. But over time, the RLDS realized they weren’t the true church, and that having a true church isn’t necessary. I had read this before I went to their worship services, and I wanted to see if they really had let go of the notion of being the one true church. I asked one woman and she smiled and said: “Oh no, we’re not the one true church. There is no one true church!”
People can be happy seeking spirituality in many different ways, including in the LDS church. As I’ve said before, if people are happy in the LDS church, by all means they should stay. If they want to believe it’s the one true church, they have that right and I won’t try to talk them out of it. But for me, I don’t believe true happiness is limited to just members of the LDS church. I don’t believe God would limit true happiness to just 0.08% of the earth’s population. I know and love people of many different faiths, and even those with no faith at all, who are happy living the life the way they know how. Who am I to say I know a better way? Everyone has to figure that out for him or herself. I look forward to continuing to learn from different perspectives, instead of wishing everyone would find the “real” truth.