On a Friday in January 2006, at home in Alpine, Utah, I received a phone call from my third son, Micah, that changed my life.
My family and I loved living in "Zion," the result of a decision that my husband, Michael, and I had made as young adults to join the Mormon Church. For eight years, I had been a professor at Brigham Young University (BYU), the flagship school of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS). Michael was a high priest, a bishopric member and high counselor, temple worker, seminary teacher, and Sunday school president. Our first son, Josh, and second son, Matt, had served the church's obligatory two-year evangelizing missions. Our daughter Katie pleased church leaders as well with her faith in Jesus Christ and Joseph Smith.
I looked down on Christians who followed the Bible. They had part of the gospel, but I had the fullness of it. I kept the laws and ordinances of Mormonism. When I took the sacrament of leavened bread and water each week at our Sunday meeting house, I was letting the sin janitor sweep away all iniquity. I believed the Mormon Church secured my eternal life.
Life in Zion
My husband and I had joined the LDS Church at age 25 after Mormon missionaries knocked on our front door. We had both attended Protestant churches growing up, but we rarely if ever read the Bible. We assumed that joining was a Christian option (85 percent of LDS converts come from biblical Christianity). We were unprepared to counter the missionaries.
Immediately and always active in the church, we raised our four children in the faith in Indiana. Serving untold hours in church callings, reading Mormon scripture, tithing, attending meetings, keeping a health code, and doing genealogy so we could redeem the dead in the temple—these were a few of our offerings to the Mormon God.
In all the years of serving the church, I thought I knew Jesus. We believed he was born first as a spirit child to Heavenly Father and Mother, and came to Earth to receive a body. He atoned for our sins in the Garden. Like the Pharisee in Luke 18, I thought I knew him better than others through the exclusive instruction I received in the temple.
In 1999, I completed my doctorate in education and was hired at BYU. We moved to Zion.
And life was good there. On Sundays we sang:
Great is his glory and endless his priesthood.
Ever and ever the keys he will hold.
Faithful and true, he will enter his kingdom,
Crowned in the midst of the prophets of old.
Sound like Jesus? Nope, this hymn is about Joseph Smith. Here's the first verse:
Praise to the man who communed with Jehovah!
Jesus anointed that Prophet and Seer.
Blessed to open the last dispensation,
Kings will extol him and nations revere.
Like Heavenly Father and Jesus before him—like Smith himself—Michael was working to become a god. This is one reason we attended the temple regularly.
Then, something unexpected interrupted our perfect Mormon life.
Three weeks before the end of his two-year mission, Micah called to tell us he was being sent home early—a horrific disgrace in Mormon culture. He had been reading the New Testament. There he encountered a different Jesus than the one I was taught about in Mormonism—a God of grace, not of works, so that no one can boast. Micah was riveted.
To a roomful of missionaries at his parting testimony, Micah had professed faith in Jesus alone and not the Mormon Church. He told them he had found a deep and genuine faith—one that didn't include Mormonism. It did not go over well. Church leaders told us that Micah had the spirit of the Devil in him, sent him home, and subsequently, back in Utah, invited us to bring him before the high council. To prevent excommunication, we put Micah on a plane out of Utah. His expulsion put our family in turmoil.