I didn’t learn anything that I didn’t know before. I knew that it would be weird. I knew that it would be dark. I knew that my heart would break. But knowing and experiencing are two different things. As I stood in Temple Square surrounded by beautiful flowers and impressive buildings, the phrase “whitewashed tombs” kept coming to mind. Salt Lake City, Utah is Latter Day-Saints (LDS) headquarters. On the surface, the religion looks a lot like Christianity. Get into a conversation with a LDS (I did, more than once) and they will likely speak reverently about Jesus. They’ll probably tell you that salvation comes through Jesus. They might even tell you that LDS are Christians too. After all, LDS theology does include the Bible. Get a little deeper though and you’ll find that it involves three other books, The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ, Doctrine and Covenants, and The Pearl of Great Price. The official English Bible of the LDS church is the KJV and includes footnotes to interpret the passages to coincide with LDS doctrine.
A key difference between Evangelical Christians and Latter Day-Saints is that Evangelicals believe that the Bible is God’s only holy Word. LDS, according to The Book of Mormon, believe that only fools believe that the Bible is sufficient (2 Nephi 29:6). Yet Revelation 22:18-19 says not to add or take away from the prophecy. Deuteronomy 4:2 and Deuteronomy 12:32 say not to add or subtract from God’s commandments. Proverbs 30:6 says, “Do not add to His words, lest He rebuke you and prove you a liar.” This is just the beginning of where the Evangelical Christian and the Latter Day-Saint differ. While I could write several posts on those differences, that’s not the point of this post. Yes, I want you to understand glaring theological differences between the two faiths, but I want those differences to move you to compassion for the LDS and the small number of Evangelical Christians in the Salt Lake City area.
My experience this summer in Utah was a whirlwind. My brother Michael has had a heart for the LDS and Utah for a while. Six years ago, towards the end of Michael’s seminary education, he spent a summer in West Jordan, just outside of Salt Lake City living with Pastor Kaei Majors and his family, and serving in their church, Utah Christian Fellowship. I had spoken to Kaei over the phone a time or two, but never got to meet him in person, so Kaei’s daughter’s wedding was a good enough catalyst to get us there. However, we went with a greater purpose than celebration and sightseeing. I packed some camera equipment so I could take some photos of the services at Utah Christian Fellowship to get them started on an image library to use on their Website and in social media. Between the flurry of wedding and family activity, I consulted about digital communications and media strategies for the ministry.
Michael preached at the church on Sunday night. He was able to reconnect with a 70-something-year-old LDS friend at the wedding (this man and Pastor Kaei have been meeting for about 8 years for theological discussions and debate) and he came to hear Michael that Sunday evening. After years of hearing about him, I finally got to meet him. He’s a kind man who believes what he believes whole-heartedly. When you begin a discussion on faith with him, it begins with things that you can agree on, but diverges under the surface. The problem that I’ve observed is that the Evangelical Christian believes (or should believe) in salvation through Christ alone. Based on discussions with this man, salvation is a little more up in the air. To the LDS salvation is through Christ, but more of what you do through Christ. And each faith has a different idea of who Christ is. The sad, infuriating fact of this situation is the LDS faith is close to the Christian faith in language and ideology, but misses the mark, preying on those who don’t know enough to know the difference until they are so far in that they don’t want to get out, or feel that they can’t get out.
By God’s grace, I met some who did get out. Several of the members of Utah Christian Fellowship are former LDS members. They were all more than happy to share their stories. As I spoke to them, I observed a difference in their eyes compared to the LDS. These converted Christians had a light in their eyes and a weightlessness to their demeanor. They walked with freedom. One portly man man who recently left the LDS church told me about the baptism for the dead ceremony. He said that he was dunked under water 200 consecutive times. “You think this is fat,” he said with a grin as he patted his belly, “but actually I’m water logged!”
Another woman told me about her first marriage in the Temple when she was a Latter Day-Saint. Only LDS are allowed in the Temple and even then it’s only for particular things like weddings and ceremonies. “I was terrified,” she recalled. “I didn’t know what was going to happen. I looked down the aisle and wanted to run, but there were people all around and I realized that they were all looking at me. I was trapped.”
While these former LDS are joyful in their new lives with the true Jesus, conversion isn’t an easy thing. For many it means strained relationships with family, or even worse, complete disownment. Those with businesses in areas like Salt Lake City with a high concentration of LDS can be forced to close their doors when the community refuses to support them anymore. The loneliness and isolation are devastating challenges for those leaving the LDS faith.
That’s why Pastor Kaei’s ministry of Utah Christian Fellowship is so important. The UCF community steps in as family. The small church has a warehouse building where they meet, but it seems that most of the ministry happens out of the Majors’s home. People move in and out of the warm, open environment of the house. The vibe reminded me of the early church in Acts where they shared in all things. And though the land and experiences are different, the feeling in Salt Lake City is similar to what Beth Greer described in Tanzania. It is spiritually exhausting. The warfare is ever-present in the Christian’s life. Pastor Kaei told me that they often feel like they’re up a river without a paddle.
For these reasons, I’ve committed to pray for the Christian church in the Salt Lake City area, and encourage you to pray for them as well, should you feel led. Before I even boarded a plane back home, I was working out ways to bring a mission team back next year to help with some ground work and be a support and encouragement to the church there. It appears that the Lord is opening that door. May we all love hard enough to look around to see and meet the needs of our brothers and sisters in our community, our country, and the ends of the earth.