My friend who grew up Mormon invited me to come with her and a few others to go on a free tour of the newly completed LDS Temple — the first one in Pennsylvania. It was a fun night to bike through the late summer rain and behold the spectacle. Since a lot of people in our city are talking about it, I thought I’d say something. Rather than being exhaustive, I’ll offer a few bullets of what I found to be inspiring, disturbing, and worth pondering. You can sign up to go on a tour until September 9 if you like, then it’s off limits unless you’re a member of good standing. The tour can be an intense experience. It’s right by the Ben Franklin Parkway at 17th & Vine.
*I respect their boldness about faith. They put themselves out there for anyone to see, for anyone to visit, and showed courteous hospitality at a site they consider holy. They talked mostly about Bible stuff in a way that reminded me of old time religion Southern Baptists, conservative Evangelicals, neo-Calvinists, charismatic Pentecostals, or Catholic catechists. They were open about more exotic/unique theologies like baptizing children on behalf of relatives who passed away without the opportunity, hanging paintings of white people, and their definition of marriage (appropriate genders and how long it lasts).
*Their clear messaging helped me understand what they were teaching. I could have led a tour as soon as mine was done. I heard the same verbiage six times and understand the family-focused message, how it’s forever, and how the sealed marriage and children born into or adopted by marriage can be together for eternity, that the temple is a sacred place of inspiration for members of the church, and so on.
*Their clear messaging also weirded me out. I got a taste of what my non-religious friends must experience when they encounter a Christian who regurgitates the friendly phrases of their indoctrination. I’m glad to be a part of Circle of Hope, we where we try to internalize our theology, faith, or spirituality to the point where we can speak from the heart, so that we don’t feel fake when we try to externalize it. Merely quoting books/articles, the Bible, what some pastor said, or what you think the Apostle Paul said somewhere in the New Testament probably doesn’t sound like you meditated and pondered the words as much as you think it does. It more likely comes across as sharing articles on Facebook because one liked the headline but didn’t bother reading the article. (Violation!)
*Gratitude abounded. At least twenty people thanked me for coming. I thanked even more than that in response. The fact the so many people seemed happy genuinely moved me. I went with it, and even gave gratitude back. That’s a good headspace to be in.
*Christianity is dying and Christendom is dead. The buildings, while beautiful, felt mostly like a rich white grandma’s house from the early 1800s. The theology seems to be the same, too. That’s not a knock on the LDS — that’s an observation about most churches. Churches that build multi-million dollar inspirational complexes for members, gymnasiums for members’ children to play in, or private planes for pastors have jumped the shark. It’s over. The writers of the New Testament would hardly recognize a church that doesn’t exist for those yet to join or for the flourishing of her non-members. The Christians and the magisterium grow more separate (thank you, Jesus!) and authentic faith becomes more available.
*Belief-centered religion wore me out. It was nice to get bullet points of the essential beliefs of another religion. I like studying religions, and do both in and out of my seminary, which is led by indigenous people. I got worn out as a Pentecostal in my teen years by the over-emphasis of the Western mind on beliefs. While important, I have experienced another spiritual reality that fosters harmony, wholeness, and healing. While the Bible, traditions and doctrines of the Church, and personal revelation still matter — so does the Creation, real community, values & practices, and integrity of mission. One’s beliefs can change, grow, and mature as we walk the the way of Jesus
I hope to learn from my hosts and bring some more bold hospitality into Circle of Hope. I’m grateful to be forming alternatives to religious norms that keep people separated, spiritually inert, and reacting to nonsense rather than embodying our inspiration with Jesus.