I grew up in Texas. Not all my life. Just the formiddable years of teenagehood. It was a great place for me to be as a teenager. It offered many opportunities for friendship, development of talents, and spiritual growth. It was here that my testimony of the restored gospel took shape, grew, and blossomed. One of the main reasons for this was the extreme opposition of many other Christian sects towards my own faith. I began studying the scriptures so I could understand what I would teach people as a missionary. I continued to do so for many years so I could give explanations of our faith to those who oppose it.
When I was 18 and in my last year of high school the school introduced a “home room” sort of class which lasted for 15 or 30 minutes during which we would receive school announcements, official notifications, and the like. The man assigned to be our teacher was a good man of another Christian faith and he often spoke to us of the realities of life attempting to combat the social indifference so common in teens and to motivate us to be good citizens and to put our energies into making the world a better place.
One such day I will never forget. I remember he was quite upset with the display of the poor, self absorbed teenage attitude exhibited by many of my classmates. Toward the end of his message to us that day he encouraged us to “take the good we have been given and share it with the world.” Inspired by his words I determined to do just that – starting with him!
I had a copy of the Book of Mormon with me which I intended to give to another friend, but decided in that moment I could get another copy. I wanted to act on his teachings in the moment. So I approached him after everyone had left and explained how I was inspired by what he said and because of that I wanted to give him a copy of the Book of Mormon. As I proffered the copy in my backpack, this otherwise kind and loving man instantly turned hateful and almost yelling at me declard, “I don’t believe in Mormon!”
I was stunned and frightened! In a place that considers itself to be the buckle of what is known in the US as the Bible Belt it is impossible to grow up a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and not know of the opposition other churches have towards your own, but his response that day was far stronger than I ever expected and stronger than nearly any other I had ever experienced. Never before had I experienced such hate because I attempted to share my beliefs – and this from a good, kind, and loving man who tried doing so much good in the lives of young people. I quickly and quietly packed up my things – including that copy of the Book of Mormon – and left without too many more words.
In the days, weeks, and years since that interaction I often wish I had had the courage to say the first thing which had come to mind when he said what he did: “Neither do we! Not any more than we believe in Moses or Abraham or any of the other prophets!” And that is the honest truth! There is one God, and He is Christ (see Book of Mormon Title Page:2, 2 Nephi 26:12, Alma 11:42-43). And it is Jesus on whom we rely for our salvation and exaltation (see 2 Nephi 25:23-26, Mosiah 3:12,17). Every other man has been just that – a man – and in the case of Mormon and the other prophets in the scriptures, a man who strove to follow and serve God with all his might, mind, and strength.
This experience and many others starting in my youth until now have helped me to realize that so much of the world outside of our own faith is full of misunderstanding and misconception regarding our church – some of which is deliberate on the part of leaders of other Christian sects – and much of which is the result of using a name other than the actual name of the church to identify ourselves (see Doctrine and Covenants 115:4). This is perhaps the rustiest aspect of being a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints – the fact that we have been so lax in using the true name of the Church.
I am grateful for the counsel and instruction from President Russell M. Nelson – the current prophet of the Church – given in General Conference this past weekend that we work towards using the full name of the Church in every instance. I know it to be the will of the Lord. It will help us clean up a whole heap of rust surrounding the indentity of the Church and its members and will hopefully spare many from the kinds of responses I experienced all these years ago. It does, however, raise questions about the name of my blog, but the Lord has instructed me to follow the instructions of the prophet. So I will.
When conceptualizing my blog I always felt uneasy about using Mormon in its name. Because of the aforementioned experience I knew that using Mormon as an identifier is not only inaccurate, but has the potential of being seriously misleading – and one of my aims in creating my blog was spreading truth about the Church and our faith. After all, how do we clean off all that rust if we can’t speak truth? But as I figured my original target audience would be more likely to find a blog with the word “Mormon” in it and since the phrase “A Russty Mormon” seemed to flow well and be memorable I decided – as I’m sure the Church has in so many instances over the years – to embrace the word as part of the identity of my blog.
As the aim of my blog is to help clean up the rust in our lives – especially my own – and two of the best ways of doing that are following the prophet and listening to the Spirit when He speaks to us, I intend to be part of the change and clean up effort I proclaim to want to be part of. Therefore, in the coming months – in an effort to follow the prophet and to obey the voice of the Spirit confirming the Lord’s will for my blog – expect a new name and therefore a new identity to the blog currently known as “A Russty Mormon.” It will be the same place with a name more pleasing to the Lord. And what’s in a name? Everything! Just ask Abraham, Jacob, John the Baptist, Joseph Smith, and even the Savior Jesus Christ Himself. Names are significant. More significant than we can ever comprehend.