By Joseph P. McManus
I suspect that I have a rather surprising story. I am a cradle Catholic born into the Roman Catholic church. My father is a devout New York Irish Catholic but was always very private about it and did not like to discuss spirituality except to make it clear that he expected us to be Catholic like him.
My mother grew up on a farm in the Idaho panhandle and her family were Assembly of God protestants. Mom converted to Catholicism to marry dad but was really a spiritual seeker interested in finding truth in all religions and denominations and is Catholic in name only.
I was happily ignorant of any alternatives to Catholicism until I went to college and met many people with other beliefs ranging from LDS to protestant Christianity to Judaism to Islam to atheism and everything else.
I lost much of my conviction that Catholicism held the only keys to the kingdom but I remained nominally Catholic. And this is how it was until I was in my early forties and my sister bought me Jon Krakauer’s book Under the Banner of Heaven for she knew I had enjoyed Krakauer’s earlier books written around mountaineering and adventure.
Krakauer’s book filled me with fascination about Mormon history and I began reading everything I could on the subject. When on a vacation that summer to the north rim of the Grand Canyon I found myself leaving the highway and exploring the polygamous enclave of Colorado City/Hildale and marveling at the faith and tenacity of a people who, while reviled by society and exiled by the mainstream LDS church for their polygamist beliefs, held fast to what they believed to be the true tenets of the church of Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, and John Taylor.
Ways that are extremely unpopular and embarrassing to the mainstream church. The following spring I was in San Diego for a soccer tournament and spent part of a day in Old Town San Diego where I paid a visit to the Mormon Battalion museum.
I explored the museum, watched some films about the Mormon Battalion and then had a pleasant discussion with an elder there who took my name and promised to have someone provide a Book of Mormon to my home.
I began having excellent discussions with several missionaries, one of whom was from Taiwan, and he and I really hit it off. Ultimately I began going to meetings with my missionary friends and was baptized.
I love the church. I love the people in the church. I love the fascinating history of the church. I learned much from the missionaries but I’ll bet they learned more about church history from me and my previous studies than they had in all of their seminary and institute classes.
So, incredibly, I was led to the church by Jon Krakauer, whose book is definitely frowned upon by the church hierarchy. I became a latter day saint after a free and open review of church history and writings, including many that the LDS church hierarchy would love to ban from my fellow saints, and has done everything in their power to do so.
In the end I am LDS because I chose to be, not because it is a family tradition or because I was forced to or because I was hoodwinked by agents of the church. And that has made all the difference.