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Conversion StoriesMormon

From LDS Deacon to Catholic Deacon

Deacon Steve Clifford
June 8, 2020 No Comments

The Apostles failed in their mission. They neglected to properly appoint their successors. When the last Apostle died, the keys of the kingdom were lost from the earth. The Church given to them by Jesus lay in ruins, overcome by the forces of hell. The so-called Christian Church was no longer the Lord’s Church. A new organization, a “great and abominable church,” came into existence. This wicked church, founded by the devil, became known as the “Catholic Church.” In her corruption, she took away many plain and precious parts of the gospel from the Bible, rendering it useless for conveying the full gospel plan. It remained an apostate church until the keys of the kingdom were once again restored to the earth through the Prophet Joseph Smith.

As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS or Mormon), I knew that all this was true. I knew the Great Apostasy had happened. I knew Joseph Smith was a prophet of God and that he had been entrusted with the task of bringing to mankind the Book of Mormon, the divinely inspired scriptures that were “Another Testament of Jesus Christ.” Most of all, I knew the church that Joseph Smith had restored and organized was true. I knew all of this by the power of the Holy Spirit. After all, we Mormons just knew these things were true, because we had complete and unquestioning trust in all that is Mormon.

I was born and raised in Utah, the older of two children. We were brought up in a nominally religious home, and yet religion played a major part in our lives as we were growing up. My parents were also born and raised in Utah in families with connections going back to the early Mormon pioneers, who had settled the Great Salt Lake Valley in the mid-1800’s.

My great-great-great grandfather on my mother’s side was probably the first in my family to join the Mormon church on February 14, 1832, less than two years after Joseph Smith founded the church. Grandpa Alva Benson convinced his wife, father, mother, and the rest of his father’s family to join the church in the winter of 1832. They moved to Jackson County, Missouri, in November of 1832 but were driven out of the county by a mob, because they were Mormons. In 1834, they moved to Clay County to join with the main body of the church. Four years later, they were forced out of Missouri by a combination of militia troops and vigilantes, after Governor Boggs issued his infamous Extermination Order on October 27th, 1838. The order described the Mormons as being in “open and avowed defiance of the laws, and of having made war upon the people of this state.” It stated that “the Mormons must be treated as enemies, and must be exterminated or driven from the State, if necessary, for the public peace — their outrages are beyond all description.” My family eventually settled in Utah in 1852, five years after the first Mormon pioneers arrived in the Salt Lake Valley under the leadership of Brigham Young, the successor to Joseph Smith.

My Jewish grandmother on my father’s side was the last of my family to be converted to Mormonism and relocate to Utah from Switzerland. My great grandparents left for Utah to join seven of their children who had already emigrated, but they were forced to leave my grandmother, Marie Kauffman, behind in the “Old Country,” because she was infected with tuberculosis. Grandma eventually made the journey with her sister, but only after her TB symptoms had subsided enough for her to slide past the US Immigration authorities in the New York harbor.

My family was directed by Brigham Young in 1852 to settle in a high mountain area of the Wasatch Range in northern Utah called Cache Valley. According to my great-great-great grandfather’s account, “We met the Apostle Ezra T. Benson at the point of the mountain. We asked him what the privileges were in the valley, and he said, ‘Find the best place you can.’” They found a place on the southeast side of the valley called Hyrum (named for Joseph Smith’s brother) and established their 20-acre farm with about 12 or 15 other families. All of my extended family since those early pioneer ancestors were born and raised as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. It was only natural that my sister and I were brought up in the religion as well.

Mormonism in Utah was not just practiced on Sundays; it was a way of life. School, social activities, scouting, dancing, music, theater, sports, and much more revolved around the church. My parents did not go to church regularly, but they were very adamant that my sister and I not miss out on anything the church had to offer. They paid their Fast Offerings and welcomed the visiting Home Teachers in an effort to maintain their ties with the church and thereby remain in good standing. In those days, anyone who was less than an active member of the church was ostracized by the majority. Approximately 77 percent of the population of Utah was Mormon, and my parents did not want me or my sister to become one of those unmentionable, disenfranchised “others.”

Mormonism is still thriving in Utah and growing all over the world. The LDS have a very carefully groomed image of family togetherness and steadfast moral values. Mormons believe that strong families make a strong nation, and strong nations make a strong world. They have a program called “Family Home Evening,” in which each participating family sets aside one evening per week to gather and discuss issues concerning the church. The goal of every faithful Mormon is to go to the temple and to be sealed for time and eternity as a family unit. In order to enter the temple, each individual needs a temple recommendation from his Bishop and Stake President.

The recommendation is only granted to Mormons in good standing with the church (i.e., those who live the Word of Wisdom, pay 10 percent tithing, attend church regularly, etc.).

In addition to ministering to their own members, there are over 65,000 full-time missionaries and almost 40,000 Church-Service Missionaries around the world who dedicate their lives, at personal expense and great sacrifice, to spread the word about Mormonism to others. The young missionary’s appeal comes from his or her youthful appearance and enthusiasm and from the social programs the church offers, such as dancing, sports, scouts, and genealogy.

Most members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have complete and unquestioning trust in all that is Mormon. They believe with all their hearts that their faith represents the only true church on earth, and it is their goal and responsibility to spread that belief to everyone else.

As I was growing up, I had very little contact with people outside the LDS church. The few non-Mormons I knew were viewed as outsiders and were treated differently than the members. Even Mormons who did not attend church regularly or who did not live according to the teachings of the church were still considered somehow “better” than non-members. I experienced this social exclusion first-hand when I decided not to attend the church-sponsored seminary program during my first year of high school. Almost everyone who was Mormon, however, attended the seminary classes. It was difficult for me to relate to my friends as they exchanged stories about the things they were learning in seminary and the activities in which they were involved. I did not make that mistake again! I participated in the three-year seminary program rather than the normal four years and was once again content to find myself included in conversations with my friends.

Mormons consider the “Standard Works” to be the basis of their doctrine. These four books are the Bible (King James Version), the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price. They believe the Bible to be incomplete, because many “plain and precious parts” have been taken away by the “great and abominable church.” The Book of Mormon is regarded as a volume of Holy Scripture. It supposedly contains the fullness of the everlasting gospel. Joseph Smith described the Book of Mormon as “the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion.” The Doctrine and Covenants consists primarily of revelations given to Joseph Smith and is full of instruction for the church regarding Mormon beliefs and practices involving baptism for the dead, celestial marriage, priesthood, and polygamy. The Pearl of Great Price is a collection of smaller writings and contains the 13 Articles of Faith, a summary of the beliefs of the LDS church.

From the Mormon perspective, there are three basic classifications of Christian churches. First is the Catholic Church, which claims it has had an uninterrupted existence since it was originally founded by Jesus Christ. Second are the Protestant churches, founded by Reformers who believe that the original Church fell into apostasy and that the Gospel can be returned to the teachings and practices of the early Church through an intense study of the Bible. The third classification consists of those who believe that the Church fell into total apostasy and could not be reestablished through reformation, but only through a restoration.

I was taught that the Catholic Church was the “great and abominable church” mentioned in the Book of Mormon. Furthermore, the Catholic Church had intentionally removed the “plain and precious parts” from the Bible that were essential for a full understanding of the teachings of Christ. As a result, there was a “Great” or “Total Apostasy” from the Gospel, and it became necessary for the church to be restored by Jesus Christ to Joseph Smith. As a Mormon, it was easier to relate to members of the Protestant churches because they had a common disdain for the Catholic Church. I agreed with the Protestants in their recognition of the Catholic Church as an apostate church, but felt that they had only the incomplete Bible as their source for doctrine. It was easy to use the Bible to support the Mormon position where possible and then to claim that it was not translated correctly when it conflicted with what I was taught to believe as a Mormon.

When I left Utah in 1968 to join the military, the Mormon bishop gave me a metal dog tag. Engraved on one side was a picture of the Mormon Temple in Salt Lake City. On the reverse side were the words, “I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” When times were hard, I would touch my dog tags with the Mormon medal as a reminder of my roots and my heritage. It gave me comfort to recall that I was at heart just a simple Mormon boy from Utah, protected from the evils of the world by my family, friends and church.

Despite the consolation it provided, I became inactive in the Mormon church. About a year later, I met Anne, a Catholic, and we were married by a Catholic priest in Germany in 1971. Our two daughters were raised Catholic under my wife’s instruction. For many years I attended Catholic Mass, often as a musician with the choir. While stationed in San Francisco, I played the guitar at the local Army chapel, along with a Baptist piano player. We often joked that we knew the words of the Mass better than most Catholics in attendance.

I continued to proudly proclaim my Mormon affiliation, even though I did not attend their services. I had no intention of joining any other church, especially not the Catholic Church. I knew how much it meant to my family back in Utah that I remain a member of the Mormon church. I dreaded visits from the Home Teachers, but I always made sure that my church records followed me to my new duty station. I did not let the Mormons get too close to me, afraid that they would talk me into coming back to church again. I made good friends with another Mormon service member who kept me informed with the latest news from the church. Otherwise, I kept my distance from the Mormons, comfortable to just sit on the fence.

We moved to Virginia in January of 1993 for an assignment at the Pentagon, and I began attending Mass regularly. I joined the contemporary choir because I enjoyed the music, and I thought it was a nice, neutral way to worship God. When asked to do a newsletter for the Schoenstatt Rosary Campaign, I jumped at the opportunity to display my computer talents. Through the preparation of the newsletter, I was first introduced to the Rosary and to Mary’s special role in the life, suffering, and death of Jesus. I could not help but be touched by the things I was reading. I began to ask questions. Anne was, of course, excited about my interest and began dropping Catholic literature around the house for me to find.

In the early part of November, I asked Anne if she was trying to convert me. She said she was not and reminded me that she had never pressured me to become a Catholic. For over 22 years of married life, I had gladly called myself a Mormon, and I told Anne that I had no intention of becoming a Catholic. “I was born a Mormon, I was raised a Mormon, and I’m going to die a Mormon!” I exclaimed. But something was happening to me. The power of all the prayers that were being said for me by Anne and by many others was having an effect. The Holy Spirit was working on me.For over 22 years of married life, I had gladly called myself a Mormon, and I told Anne that I had no intention of becoming a Catholic.... but I sacrificed a Saturday to attend a seminar given by Scott and Kimberly Hahn. Click To Tweet

On November 20th, 1993, I sacrificed a Saturday to attend a seminar given by Scott and Kimberly Hahn. Scott told his story of assuming the role of detective in an attempt to prove once and for all that the Catholic Church was wrong. In the process of his studies, he became a Catholic. I remember thinking to myself that obviously he did not research very well, or he would have become a Mormon instead of a Catholic. I decided to try the detective thing myself, just to prove the Catholics wrong and the Mormons right.

I began reading and researching like there was no tomorrow. I read books on Mormonism, Protestantism, and Catholicism. I listened to audio tapes and watched videos. I grabbed at anything I could get my hands on to confirm beyond a shadow of a doubt that the only true church on earth was the one restored by Jesus Christ via the “Prophet” Joseph Smith and his followers. Much to my chagrin, every direction I turned, and on each point I investigated, I found overwhelming evidence against the Mormon position. The more I researched, the more problems I found with the Mormon doctrines I had been taught.

I discovered that the Mormon teaching of a “Total Apostasy” in the early Church established by Jesus Christ was simply not true. The overwhelming historical evidence supports the Catholic teaching on apostolic succession. It was first demonstrated in the replacement of Judas by Matthias (Acts 1:15–26). The chain has been unbroken from Peter to Pope Francis (Matt 16:18). Without a great and total apostasy, there is no need for a restoration.

Another truth I uncovered through my research is that there is only one God. I could no longer accept basic Mormon principles, such as the plurality of gods made of flesh and bones, God’s essential humanity, and man’s progression to become an exalted god of his own world. Through the mystery of the Holy Trinity, I began to understand the one divine nature of God in three Persons: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

Lastly, I came to know that God is the “first cause” of everything, and that our souls and bodies are created at the moment of conception. I could no longer accept the Mormon plan of eternal progression, consisting of a pre-mortal existence, where each person is born into this world according to his previous merits in the spirit world. I started to believe that nothing exists that does not owe its existence to God the Creator. The next logical step was to realize that Mary was created as the most exalted creature on earth. I began to see her as the daughter of God the Father, the spouse of God the Holy Spirit, and the mother of God the Son. I saw that through a better understanding of the virtues of the Blessed Virgin, we can more nearly follow in the footsteps of Jesus.The next logical step was to realize that Mary was created as the most exalted creature on earth. I began to see her as the daughter of God the Father, the spouse of God the Holy Spirit, and the mother of God the Son. Click To Tweet

By Christmas, I was absolutely convinced that the Mormons were wrong. I was devastated! How could so many good people be deceived? What about all the sacrifices my ancestors had made for the church? How could I turn my back on my heritage, my upbringing, my family, and my childhood friends? I wanted to pretend that I had never started on this journey. I wished I could go back to the way things were, but it was too late. I had found the truth.

Once I had decided that I wanted to become a Catholic, I had a wonderful feeling of peace, because I knew that I was doing the right thing. I was certain that God was prompting me along the way and giving me the grace to open my mind and heart to accept the truth of the Gospel message of Jesus Christ.

At the same time there was a tremendous battle raging about me that left me wondering what was going to happen next. I was challenged from all directions in what seemed like a concerted effort to prevent me from trusting in God. The spiritual warfare even manifested itself physically. One morning, about two weeks before my baptism, another driver ran into the back of my car on the way to work. I was verbally attacked by members of my family in Utah and some of my co-workers at the Pentagon. On Ash Wednesday, I was heckled by my supervisor for having “dirt” on my forehead. The distractions and obstacles seemed constant and unrelenting. I just kept reminding myself that I must be on the right track since all these bad things were being thrown at me. I accepted my sufferings as the devil’s desperate attempt to steer me away from the Church.On Ash Wednesday, I was heckled by my supervisor for having dirt on my forehead. The distractions and obstacles seemed constant and unrelenting. But I had a very moving experience confirming to me the Real Presence of Christ in the… Click To Tweet

Not to be outdone, God gave me some loving affirmations that He was there with me. One evening at church, I was overcome with joy and drawn almost uncontrollably to an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. I genuflected towards the tabernacle and made the Sign of the Cross for the first time in my life. Also, on Ash Wednesday, just days before my baptism, I had a very moving experience confirming to me the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. During my First Confession the next day, I had another nudge that assured me of the authority of the Pope as the successor to Peter and the Vicar of Christ. By that time, I had no problem discerning which combatant was sending the good messages and which was sending the negative ones.

On February 19th, 1994, I received the holy Sacraments of Baptism (it was a conditional Baptism since at that time the validity of a Mormon baptism was uncertain), Confirmation, First Communion, and convalidation of the Sacrament of Matrimony performed over 22 years earlier. On January 18th, 2014, I was ordained as a Permanent Deacon for the Catholic Diocese of Arlington, Virginia. I jokingly tell people that this was my second time to be ordained as a deacon, the first time being in 1962 when I was ordained as a deacon in the LDS Aaronic priesthood.The day I became Catholic was a sacred day that I will cherish forever. Click To Tweet

I am often asked why I left the LDS church for the Catholic Church. My answer: The Catholic Church teaches the fullness of truth by the authority of Christ given to the Apostles and handed on to their successors, the bishops. I love being Catholic, because it is the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church established by Jesus Christ two thousand years ago. I love being Catholic because we have the True Presence of Christ — Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity — in the Eucharist. I love being Catholic because the Church recognizes the critical role that the Blessed Virgin Mary has in God’s plan for our salvation. I love being Catholic because the sanctifying graces of the seven sacraments have allowed the Holy Spirit to open my mind and heart to accept the truth of the Gospel message of Jesus Christ. The day I became Catholic was a sacred day that I will cherish forever.

Deacon Steve Clifford

DEACON STEVE CLIFFORD was born and raised in Utah as a fifth-generation member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He served in the United States Air Force from 1968 to 1972 where he met and married his wife of 48 years while on assignment in West Germany. After receiving his undergraduate degree from Weber State College in Ogden, Utah, Deacon Steve served as a commissioned officer in the United States Army for 19 years, retiring with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. He subsequently worked as a systems analyst for a defense contractor for 16 years. Deacon Steve and his wife, Annerose, currently live in the Massanutten Mountains within the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. He is the Permanent Deacon at St. John Bosco Catholic Church in Woodstock, Virginia. They have two married daughters, eight living grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren. An earlier version of this conversion story appeared in the May/ June 1998 issue of Envoy Magazine, as well as in Surprised by Truth 2.

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