Thursday, February 13, 2014

Unveiling Grace: A BYU Professor's Journey That Changed My Life.

Many of us whom have had any sort of ties to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints have at the very least heard of Dr. Lynn K. Wilder, former professor at Brigham Young University who left the church in 2008. I certainly remember hearing of her. The whispers and press statements filled with people trying to figure out how a BYU professor could go off the deep end and apostatize from the Church. Even I wondered for a couple of minutes before shrugging and going on with my life. I never thought about again.

Fast-forward five years later. I had been questioning church doctrine and studying controversial teachings, both present and past. The more I studied the more hot water I found myself in. From September to November of 2013, I was being bullied by different members who called me a spawn of Satan, a traitor of Christ, even a Daughter of Perdition. Texts, Facebook messages and even my Facebook page started consisting of accusations, anger and disdain. I have always dealt with depression and everything I was enduring from people I had looked up for almost a decade fed that depression until I began to not eat, sleep or interact with others. In October, a support group mentioned a book called Unveiling Grace by none other than Lynn K. Wilder. I purchased it on Amazon and for some weird reason it sat on my desk for a few days. After having an unpleasant conversation with another church member, I sat at my desk and saw the book. Need I go on….?

I read the first chapter of the book which honestly amused me because it described an ideal LDS family. In a way, it was almost like reading about the Mormon version of the Cleavers. Good parents raising wonderful, faithful children where every son served a mission, returned honorably, etc. And just as I got comfortable, her youngest son said two words: “it’s over” about three weeks before he was due home from his mission. My first reaction was “wait, what?” When I finished the chapter with this surprising turn, it was bedtime because I had an 8 a.m class the next morning. I said my prayers, complete with the “thee’s” and “thou’s” and went to bed. Three hours later, and I couldn’t sleep. My mind was going over that chapter over and over which eventually created an urgency to read more. So, on went the desk lamp, on went the glasses and away I go…

The more I read, the more I needed to continue. By the time I finished it was time to get ready for school. Just don’t ask me to tell you what the professors said that day. This family went through trial by fire, maybe not in the physical sense, but the emotional and spiritual sense. There was an excommunication, friends separating from one of the sons, and the moral dilemma of how to remain in the LDS Church and teach at the Church’s university when Christ is at work in converting one’s heart to true Christianity. This book took me step-by-step through the journey this woman and her family experienced. But, despite everything they suffered, their courage awes me and inspires me. After they decided to leave, they moved their family in Florida where they run a ministry and continue to praise God and bring people closer to Jesus.
The best part was the challenge that same man that said those two words that still stay with me gave his family. Read the New Testament, read the New Testament, read the New Testament! Readers, this is so important! Even my own Bishop said that when you read the New Testament, you’re sitting in Jesus’ living room and there’s no place better. I took this challenge and recently finished my favorite book of the New Testament, the book of Romans. It brought me closer to my Savior than I ever was before because it taught me about grace, as I spoke about in my previous post.

There is one story Dr. Wilder mentioned in the book that I admired and even took as an example. When she and her husband turned their hearts to Jesus, they both purchased crosses to wear to show their commitment to Christ. This was in my opinion, a brave thing for Dr. Wilder to do because wearing crosses at BYU is frowned upon, if not prohibited. So, of course she had to wear it under her clothing, but she kept it with her every day. On the days she didn’t have a high enough collar, she would keep the necklace in her pocket. On one of those days, she misplaced the cross. She looked in the places she had it and even had the nerve to go to the campus lost-n-found where they had four crosses (I had to chuckle at that note), but hers wasn’t among them. The person running it assumed it was a family heirloom, which in a way made me sad. It made me sad because there’s such a negative view on things like crosses that in her mind the only way a BYU professor would have such a sacred emblem is if she had inherited it. By a God-given miracle, Dr. Wilder’s cross was found and she swore she would never part with it again.

This inspired me because it must have taken a great deal of courage for her to buy a cross in the first place, let alone where it among members of the church. I myself had purchased a cross before I read this book and after I read it, I started openly wearing my cross, even to Sacrament Meeting. For me, it is a reminder of what is really important and what my salvation is credited to.

I love this book. I know my LDS readers are probably wondering why I read a book of a former member that is an account of her exodus out the church. I read it because a lot of the trials and strife mentioned in the book that was suffered by different members touched me. I could relate to a lot of those trials because I went through similar tribulations and God knew that. I think it was God’s way of saying: “See? You’re not alone in this. There are others that know what your shoes feel like. Take heart and follow me.” It was God’s way of tapping me on the shoulder and helping me see hope where I saw none. I am not being melodramatic when I say this, but I know God wanted me to read this. This book has literally changed my life.

Since reading the book, I’ve watched various interviews on Youtube and I did my research on Dr. Wilder. I’ve even had the privilege of speaking to Dr. Wilder. I can promise you; this isn’t a woman that left the church over petty reasons. Like me, and many others I’ve met, she did her homework and left for valid reasons.

I know my active member friend probably won’t want to read this, but I’d still recommend this book regardless. Dr. Wilder not only goes over the doctrines that troubled her, she backs them up with references from LDS canon and the Bible. This may be a story of a family that left the LDS Church, but the most important thing is that they left for something better.

God be with you. Christ be with you.