Friday, October 12, 2012

Walk like a Mormon...

The newest prophets               “Wait until I finish,” she said in response to my question about showing the PBS Frontline documentary, The Mormons, to my Humanities class.

She, Susan, mother of seven who was baptized a Mormon when she was 18, was about to lecture my class on what it meant to be a Mormon.

“We don’t have any paid ministers,” she told us, after having used pictures screened from an overhead projector to provide historical illustrations.  “Actually, we are The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Most know us as Mormons,” she said.

Because she’d lived as a Methodist until her baptismal conversion, she was well aware of the differences between her Mormon faith and her former denomination.

Central to the story of her religion was its founder’s question, “Which is the true church?” That man, Joseph Smith, received a startling vision along with an answer: “None!” Hence, he quietly started his movement.

It seems that Mormons believe that Smith was a prophet followed by Brigham Young. Instead of believing, with the completion of the Old and New Testaments, that the line of prophets had ended, Smith proclaimed that, in 1844, he was revealed to be a latter day saint.

Others have followed, as appointed by the Church’s twelve Apostles. Fascinated by that and by the strict ethical code that forbids alcohol and drugs, my class and I listened as Susan described her “monthly” visits to the Temple in Apex, NC. “When we arrive, we change into white clothing before we enter for services.”

For many, that conjured a picture of exemplary piety; none balked at the ritual. Later, when I asked my students to write their responses to Susan’s presentation, only a few mentioned it; their comments were positive.

Most were appreciative; they had wondered about Romney’s religion. A majority, including my one student who claims to be an atheist, wrote that they no longer had misgivings about Romney as a candidate even if they didn’t support him. All but one, in light of Susan’s lecture, were pleased that a person of such good character was running for office. Many wrote that such a man was the kind of leader who could save America from its current disaster.

Indeed, a few stated that, until Susan’s lecture, they weren’t sure which candidate they would vote for. Thanks to Susan, they had become Romney supporters.

As they watched the documentary that followed Susan’s presentation, they didn’t make a sound. Like me, they were fascinated by the visionary abilities of Joseph Smith as well as his talent for being able to divine where gold could be found. That ability eventually led Smith to discover gold plates that had been buried centuries earlier near his home in New York.

After he and his wife unearthed them, he translated their hieroglyphs. That translation became the Book of Mormon, more than 500 pages long.

“You can get a free copy,” Susan told me. “Just go to”

I thanked her, then asked a question that I hoped she wouldn’t find offensive. “About those gold plates,” I began, “did anyone else see them?”

She opened her Book of Mormon and flipped to its first pages. “Three people saw them,” she told me as she pointed to the statement that had been printed and signed before the actual text began. “And eight more signed this testimonial,” she added, as she pointed to that list of names.

Although I’d known Susan and her family for more than twenty years, and although I’d known her to be a brilliant woman, I’d never talked about her faith in such depth. Nor had I ever been so curious about it.

But I knew I wanted to research the gold plates now that I was aware of them. To that end, I’ve ordered my free copy of the Book of Mormons. On the website, I was notified that it will be delivered by church members who will probably be just as gentle and well informed as Susan.

My hope is that, like me, they will want to be religious detectives. That mystery, I’m sure, will last much longer than our early November search for a President.

                                                                     B. Koplen 10/13/12

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