Talking theology with two of Utah’s faithful young men • Dick Hodgetts
In most of our churches, we support some missionary activity almost always in a distant place. Interestingly we have two young men who are on missions for their church here in Morgan County. They are Elder Christensen and Elder Quaid, both from Utah, who are on a two-year mission to share their faith with Georgians. You may see them about town in their typical white shirt, black slacks and necktie. Always well-scrubbed and ready to share what they believe. They typically leave their homes at about 19 as boys, and return home as young men.
Elder Christensen – from southern Utah where his family raises alfalfa and his dad works for the power company – is from a family of four siblings. Elder Quaid, who is black, has white parents who had one biological child and have adopted 18 more, many of those with special needs. Each missionary is supported by their family and supervised by a Mission President and staff. Here in Georgia there are two mission organizations with approximately 150 missionaries talking to those interested in learning about another approach. Perhaps that is one reason that the Mormons or Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS) is among the fastest growing Christian denominations around the world.
The Mormons have a long history of being both the quintessential American faith and raising the ire of others, some who have even questioned if they are indeed Christians. Should you visit the LDS center behind Pennington headquarters building and the Masonic Lodge, you will find a worship center with artwork featuring Jesus in his most familiar roles as teacher, shepherd and leader of disciples. Granted, the Mormons are believers in a Book of Mormon that the rest of us have little familiarity with, but that does not make them less believers.
The two young men currently assigned to Morgan County represent the best of their faith. They are delighted to be here, and find that most of us welcome them, and remark we exhibit overt community friendliness. They are prepared to discuss their beliefs with you and ask only that you pray and consider what is in your heart. They have been impressed with the community involvement in building the Anaiah Rucker home. That is high praise as Mormon communities out west are known for their organizational skills in rallying their community to accomplish great deeds when disasters or other needs arise.
The Mormon faith is based on revelations made to Joseph Smith and were formulated into the Book of Mormon. Converts to the faith were numerous both here and throughout Europe. The controversy that characterized their early years centered on the belief that plural marriage was ordained. After the Civil War, that changed as their Prophet called for the elimination of this practice and they have been strong proponents of monogamy for over 140 years. That does not prevent some small splinter groups continuing to practice plural marriage in usually out-of-the-way communities.
Many who stay in traditional faiths often learn to admire the LDS members for the manner they live their lives, and the strong commitment they bring to their faith and family. Belief in the family is fundamental to every good Mormon and guides much of their daily life. Some folks who fail to endorse their theology give them very high marks for how they live their lives.
Perhaps it would not be too much of a stretch to suggest that if all of us in our various faiths had 19- and 20-year-old men and women who were confident they could go away and talk to strangers about their beliefs, and how it changes lives, the world might be a bit better place.
Elder Quaid and Elder Christensen will complete a two-year mission and return home to Utah. It is likely that their missionary experiences will be a strong aspect of their faith for decades. If one of these young men knocks on your door, I can assure you they will not bite; and they will impress you with their sincerity and commitment to their faith. Sometimes we find our own faith is strengthened by the simple exercise of asking ourselves: “why do I believe what I believe?” Talking with a Mormon missionary may not be a path to conversion, but it may strengthen how you practice your own faith. And if you already have all the answers, would you call me? I struggle at times and appreciate hearing how others deal with the issues I get stuck upon.
Printed in the July 28 edition