I was not born into a Mormon family, but a Protestant one: the Disciples of Christ. I did not join the Mormon Church because I read the Book of Mormon and prayed about its truth. Nor did I join because I was impressed by Mormon friends or Mormon life and wanted to know more about it. All of those and others are legitimate paths into the Church, but I joined because, for whatever reason, God struck me as he did Paul and Alma—though much more gently. He took me by surprise. In a moment of unexpected, inexplicable, and profound revelation I came to know, however improbable the claim may sound, that the LDS Church is the chosen – though (as a I came to understand) not only – vehicle for God’s grace on earth and that I had to join myself to it. So I did.
Like ancient Israel and the early Christian church, the LDS Church is small, even frail, and thoroughly human. How else can we read the Old Testament if not as a record of the humanity of God’s people and his mercy to them in their humanity? Nevertheless, also like them, the Mormon Church has been called to the impossible and nevertheless ongoing and essential Abrahamic work of being a blessing to all of humanity. Perhaps the Church is called because of its fragility and humanness, to underline the human impossibility of the task, in order all the more to give God the glory. Whatever the case – whether or not I can make completely rational sense of my revelation (without resorting to fideism) – I can say I knew that I had been called and I knew that the church to which I had been commanded was God’s own. God did not speak to me in words, but he might as well have.
Not all genuine conversion is dramatic.
Not everyone comes in the way that I did; not all genuine conversion is dramatic. My case is no exemplar for others. Yet that revelation has remained the rock on which I am built as a Mormon. When my feet slip in one storm or another, I cling to it until the storm has passed and I can stand again. Revelation made me a Mormon and continues to keep me one. It gives me my being. However, the substance of that way of being has been much less dramatic than the thunder and lightning of its first moment. The substance of my being is, to use Joseph Smith’s word, the sociality of my sisters and brothers: “That same sociality which exists among us here will exist among us there.”
To someone who has not been a member of a religious community in earnest, sociality as an explanation for being religious will make religion sound like merely a club, a fraternity or sorority that we join so that we will have friends. But Joseph’s point was subtler, for it is not a point about making friends, but about the nature of God and godliness. The quotation about sociality is preceded by this: “When the Savior shall appear we shall see him as he is. We shall see that he is a man like ourselves.” Indeed, were I editing the manuscript (heaven forfend), I would punctuate the last sentence of verse 1 and the first sentence of verse 2 differently. I would join them: “We shall see that he is a man like ourselves, and that same sociality which exists among us here will exist among us there . . . .” We will see Christ as a man and, in seeing him, we will also see that the same sociality that exists among the immortals, including the members of the Godhead, already exists among us. We may not live up to the divine sociality that is part of what it means to be a human being, a child of God, but its possibility and even its reality is already here.
Is that to say that the sociality of the heavens is the same as ordinary human sociality? No, but it is to say that we find the sociality of the heavens already on earth, already among us in the Church at least, where we ultimately find sociality defined not by our genetic and other relations, but by covenant. The title page of the Book of Mormon suggests that to know the covenants that God made with our forebears is to know that we have not been cut off. Exodus tells us that the people of God are defined by their covenant: “Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine: And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation.” To be in Israel, ancient or modern, is to live in covenant relation with God, to keep covenant with him as priests and priestesses in service as a blessing to all the earth.
The covenant of God and Israel is expressed in the covenant between God and us.
The covenant of God and Israel is expressed in the covenant between God and us, and in covenants between ourselves: in marriage, in family, and as Alma preaches, in bearing each other’s burdens and in mourning together and comforting together and witnessing together. Covenant is expressed in member-ship, being a member of a complex whole. We live in covenant with one another because we live in covenant with God; we are in covenant with God because we are in covenant with one another. Though Doctrine and Covenants 128 is referring only to baptism for the dead, its language is applicable here: “we without them cannot be made perfect.” We are each, including our Heavenly Parents, part of the same body. Membership is the sociality of the heavens.