A Letter To Our LDS Friends and Neighbors
Ahh, Utah… what a unique place! Some of the most beautiful landscape in the entire world, great weather, a clean and moral environment, a culture apparently very in tune with God-there really isn’t a greater place to live, is there? In fact, not long ago Utah County was rated #1 as the best place to raise a family. We are blessed to live here!
There are, however, some great paradoxes in this land that are very puzzling. Utah is #1 in the prescription of and use of anti-depressants. Utah is very high on the list for pain-killer drug abuse. Utah just months ago was rated #1 in bankruptcy (now we’ve been bumped to #3 due to the great investment potential here-but still, #3!). How in the world could such a great place that is so beautiful and apparently so in tune with God still be so broken up inside? Why all of the anti-depressants? (Are we depressed?) Why all of the pain-killer abuse? (Are we in pain?) Why all of the bankruptcy? (Are we trying to fulfill voids in our lives with toys too expensive for us to afford?)
These are very puzzling paradoxes! Over the years, I believe I’ve come to understand why these things are. Are you ready to hear what I believe the problem is? I believe the problem is religion. That’s right, religion. You may say, “That’s odd that you say that…You’re a pastor…You’re a religious fellow…How is religion our problem?…That’s the only thing that holds us together…” As you read this as one of our LDS friends you probably wonder how I, as a minister, can believe the big “downer” in this area is religion. Let me explain:
Religion in the world is, at its very core, the act of mankind trying, through their actions, to please God and be deemed acceptable in His sight when we meet Him. You find it in all religion. In fact, friend, if you’re honest with yourself, that’s exactly what you are doing. You are going to church, being baptized, living a moral life, tithing your income, going on a mission, fulfilling your calling, getting married, having children, and obeying the commands of the Lord for one purpose: to gain acceptance in God’s eyes so that you can return to Him. And by the “grace” of God, “if you do your best, then Christ will do the rest,” and you’ll end up in heaven with God. That’s really what you’re doing, isn’t it?
Well that is stressful! To fulfill all the commands of the Lord and the demands of the church with your eternal life hanging in the balance…that’s enough to seek some form of stress relief (anti-depressants, pain-killers, toys to distract us). You may ask yourself from time to time, “How do I know I’m good enough? My neighbors look like they’re doing a good job, my bishop appears to be, the elders and sisters appear to be. But what about me?” Again, that kind of pressure makes one quite depressed and left un-fulfilled in life.
Let’s be real, we all respect and fear God. That’s why we want to work so hard to please Him. Well, that is exactly what religion is. Religion is man trying with all of his might to be pleasing to God and earn the right to be in His presence. So what are we to do? Just keep living like we are and get by even if our religious efforts in pursuit of heaven overwhelm us?
I’ve been using the terms “we” and “us” throughout this letter to you, but I do want you to understand something. There is a big difference between what we believe as a Bible Church and what you believe as a member of the LDS Church. I realize that you may believe that because we only study the Bible we don’t have the whole truth, and you, because you have the Book of Mormon and the teachings of your prophet, have the whole truth (that’s an issue for another time). The truth is, because of what each of us would hold to as scripture, it makes us different in many ways theologically. And these differences are in very critical areas.
And in our difference, I must admit, though you may be religious, we are not. We are not bound up by the stress and slavery of religion. Not to say we don’t want to obey and please God, and be found acceptable in His sight when we meet Him (we wholeheartedly do!); but the Bible, when studied by itself, clearly teaches us how to be approved in God’s sight in a freeing way. God doesn’t desire religion; He desires a relationship! He doesn’t desire or expect that we change ourselves in order to come to Him. What He does desire and expect is that we first give ourselves to Him and let Him change us and clean us. At Fellowship Bible Church we teach biblically what God desires of us to start and progress in our relationship with Him.
God calls His followers His “children.” What is a father and child’s relationship built upon? Works? If the child does enough he or she is found worthy of entering the family relationship? No, that describes the relationship between an employer and an employee. We are to simply go to God, Who desires a relationship with us, and in faith trust in Jesus for eternal life, receiving it as a free gift. I strongly encourage you to read “The Gospel Message” page also found on this website to learn more about how to start that relationship with Him on His terms not a set of man-made terms.
I don’t know you personally, but I wonder, do you perhaps doubt your faith at times? Maybe in your mind, you doubt many of the things you are supposed to believe as truth. I’ve talked with many people of the LDS faith that do doubt. Yet they continue to ignore the things that eat away at them. They beat themselves up spiritually by believing they are just weaker in the faith than their neighbor, that they must have something wrong with them, that they are the only one with the doubts they face (when in reality their neighbor is feeling the same exact way-they just haven’t said anything either!). They go to their bishop or another religious authority and bring up their concerns only to be told to pray about it and you’ll feel better. So many people have the doubts, see the red flags, but just ignore it all (and are told by their authority to pray about it and then ignore it all). They place it all aside and just go through the church motions. Is that truly the best thing to do? You may feel that you might as well just stay “Mormon” because everyone else is and you’ll cause waves if you leave; and hey, it’s a good way to bring up kids isn’t it? The problem is, if it’s not the truth, why live it? Is it better to live a lie and be accepted by your peers, or find the truth and be accepted by God in the end?
“Why not just leave then?” someone may ask you, “What is there to lose?” Do you want the honest answer? There is much to lose! You’ll probably lose respect from your LDS parents, children, spouse, neighbors, friends, co-workers, you name it. The price of genuine discipleship in Utah is very high. Jesus speaks to you, when He says, “If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple.” [Luke 14:26] Our love for the Lord needs to far surpass that of anyone else, including our own self and comfort.
Is it worth it? It is worth leaving and making the waves in your family and neighborhood to follow Jesus as presented in the Bible? The many I’ve talked to that have left say it is! Those who attend FBC that have faced the same issues you are right now say it’s worth it. It’s difficult, but it’s freeing, and it’s the right thing to do!
Friend, this is a big deal, and shouldn’t be taken lightly. And maybe you don’t agree with me. You may believe that it is worth staying where you are, even if you doubt it, so that you can keep your good standing with others. If so, Jesus asks you a good question to thoughtfully and prayerfully consider: “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?” [Mark 8:36] You may have the world right now, but the world will pass away. Why not forfeit the world and gain your soul?
You may feel that giving up so much for the Lord would be depressing, and that Utah’s depression problem would only increase if you and everyone that felt the same way gave up your reputation for God. That’s another one of life’s mysterious paradoxes! The more you give up for the Lord in following Him, the more joy, love, fulfillment, and acceptance you feel in Him!
Pastor Michael Tharp
Feel free to respond with any questions or comments by contacting us at firstname.lastname@example.org.