Free Indeed: The Testimony of Lynn Wilder
Picture a beautiful, bright winter day in Utah. Glistening mountains, crisp air, deep blue sky. It was Christmas, and Lynn Wilder was loving it. The past year had been full of struggle, inspiration, triumph, and fear, but at this moment, all was well. Just like the mountain air, Lynn's mind and heart were clear. For almost thirty years she had faithfully worn her Mormon temple garments, a constant reminder of her spiritual devotion and the covenants she had made for her religion. But things had changed. Lynn didn't believe Mormonism any longer. On this day--Christmas Day 2006--Lynn replaced the temple garments that had been the symbol of her Mormon faith, with a Christian cross, the symbol of her new commitment to Jesus Christ. She was relaxed, thinking the worst of the struggle was behind her. The year of turmoil was at an end.
Little did she understand that heart-wrenching trials were still ahead.
Lynn and Michael Wilder were married in 1974. Though they had both attended Protestant churches growing up, they were spiritually unprepared to deal with the Mormon missionaries who knocked on their door three years later. "We did not know the truth in God's Word," Lynn says. "Since we rarely, if ever, read the Bible, we had no foundational knowledge of truth with which to recognize falsehood."
Even so, Mike and Lynn were not immediately convinced of the truthfulness of the Mormon Church. They met with the missionaries twice a week for almost three months, asking them a myriad of questions. Finally, at the urging of the missionaries (and as the Book of Mormon itself directs), Mike was persuaded to pray in order to find out if this book and the Mormon religion were true. A dream convinced him that he and Lynn needed to join The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS or Mormon Church). While she was lukewarm to the idea, Lynn wanted to support Mike in what he believed was right. Despite objections from their families, Mike and Lynn went ahead and were baptized into the LDS Church in 1977.
Once they made the commitment to Mormonism, Mike and Lynn were in -- all in. They went to the temple (the pinnacle of the Mormon religion), held and dutifully fulfilled their "callings" in the Church, and built what they believed would be a forever family, raising their four children according to LDS Church standards. Mike and Lynn were "good" Mormons: active in their church while meeting all the requirements necessary to be deemed "worthy" to attend Mormon temples and maintain their own "temple blessings." They loved their Mormon life.
In 1999, Lynn was offered a teaching position at the Mormon flagship school, Brigham Young University, in Provo, Utah. With a fresh doctorate in hand, Lynn and Michael moved the Wilder family from Indiana to Utah. They all believed Lynn's opportunity to go to "Zion" and work for the LDS Church was a sign that God was very pleased with the family, and perhaps especially pleased with Lynn. Her rapid ascent up the academic ladder supported that assumption, and within six years she was a tenured associate professor, well respected among her colleagues.
Lynn was, by all accounts, a happy, committed, and faithful Mormon. Yet now and then, troubling questions arose. Today she recognizes them as God-given "clues that something was rotten in Denmark," but at the time Lynn would deliberately push her apprehensions aside, falling back on the customary LDS mantra, "But the Church is still true."
In 2001, Mike and Lynn's oldest son left home to serve a two-year mission for the LDS Church. Mormonism affords great honor to parents of missionaries, and Lynn was happy to receive that honor. A year later a second son left to serve a mission, and a year after that, a third son, Micah, followed suit. "Our whole life centered on the Mormon Church," Lynn says. Everything was going just as it should for a faithful Mormon family. That is until Micah, while serving his mission, unexpectedly encountered Christ and His saving grace.
Micah wrote emails home while he was on his mission, dropping hints about the internal faith questions with which he struggled. Mike and Lynn knew something was happening to their son, but they didn't know what it was. Meanwhile, Lynn's own concerns regarding her church became a "burgeoning internal conflict."
One nagging question that bothered Lynn concerned the validity of her patriarchal blessing, a personal prophesy for her future understood to be given directly by God. It was clear to Lynn that her blessing did not make sense for her life, even as she was faithful to her covenants. The same was true of the patriarchal blessing of her friend. Though the friend was worthy in every way, the fulfillment of this blessing was impossible as written. Even as Lynn comforted her friend by saying, "I have faith that my Heavenly Father knows what he's doing," she was wondering how these two patriarchal blessings could really be from God.
Lynn also questioned the driving force behind the racism in the Mormon Church's history. Lynn had always stood for civil rights and could not bring herself to believe the Mormon leadership's teaching that black skin was the "curse of Cain" or the "mark of the curse." When Lynn began asking questions about this, someone gave her a Mormon-authored book titled The Church and the Negro. Lynn says, "I was shocked to find out the extent of the LDS prejudice against dark skin, even from Church leaders." She struggled with this, knowing that God was not biased against people with dark skin. Lynn had to conclude that LDS Church leaders were wrong on this issue.
Another thing that bothered Lynn was the inequality of discipline meted out by bishops and stake presidents to different people who were guilty of similar infractions. To Lynn, this discipline did not appear to come from God but rather from the disposition of whichever Church leader was in authority.
Moreover, Lynn wondered about the scope of the sufficiency of Christ's atonement. She believed Christ's sacrifice was big enough to cover all sins -- great and small. But the Mormon Church taught that some sins, such as murder, were beyond the atonement of Christ. Lynn recognized a conflict between two Mormon scriptures: "The [LDS scripture] Doctrine and Covenants says king David lost his exaltation, but Psalm 51 and Samuel 12:13 tell another story," she explains.
As Lynn grappled with these questions and doubts, Micah's mission was drawing to a close. So she focused on the coming joy of having him home again and, on the surface, continued life as usual. But life as usual came to a screeching halt on a cold day in January when Micah called to say he was being sent home early from his LDS mission.
Desiring God's Truth
Lynn and Mike welcomed Micah home the next day, January 21, 2006. Micah told his parents very little about what had happened to him, but Mike and Lynn understood he had found a new deep and genuine faith -- one that didn't include Mormonism. Though concerned and confused, Mike and Lynn trusted Micah and were able to lovingly support their son as they sought to shield him from both the ecclesiastical and social consequences of his decisions. Two days later, Micah boarded a plane back to Florida (where he had spent his LDS mission) to begin serving a lifelong Christian mission according to the call God placed on his life. As Lynn watched her son go, like any mother would, she pondered all these things in her heart.
When the whirlwind of those few days with Micah settled down a bit, Lynn's questioning kicked into high gear. She wanted to understand what had happened to her son -- and what was apparently also happening to her. Lynn wanted desperately to know Christ and His will. She wanted to know what was true and what was not.
Knowing she could trust the words of Christ, Lynn first went to the Book of Mormon. But there she found very little spoken by Christ Himself. What there was had mostly been copied from the Bible, so Lynn decided to go directly to the source. This is exactly what Micah had advised his parents to do before he left: Read the New Testament.
The timing couldn't have been better. Under obligation from the then-Mormon Prophet Gordon B. Hinckley, Lynn, along with many other Mormons, had spent the previous twenty-one months reading the Book of Mormon. Now, having fulfilled that obligation, she dived into the New Testament; Lynn made a covenant with God that she would read nothing but the Bible for a year.
One of the first passages Lynn read was John 5:24: "I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life." Lynn wanted to cross over. She had a deep and driving desire to read the Bible.
When Lynn told a colleague at work that she wanted to know the words of Christ more intimately, this professor suggested she read other Bible versions in addition to the standard LDS-authorized King James Version. Lynn was surprised to hear that there were other versions of the Bible and began to learn about them. Further surprised to find the high level of scholarship and number of ancient manuscript sources supporting these translations, Lynn began reading God's Word in a modern language that was clearer and easier to understand than the King James. What she found was that the Bible disagreed with many LDS teachings. For example, she learned through her Bible reading that:
- Christ fulfilled the Law, contrary to the Mormon teaching that individuals must keep (fulfill) the Law themselves.
- No confidence should be placed in the flesh, contrary to the Mormon focus on personal achievement and striving for the ultimate Mormon goal of Godhood.
- Followers of Christ should rejoice in their sufferings because suffering produces righteousness, contrary to the Mormon idea that suffering is a sign of God's displeasure with an individual.
For months Lynn read the Bible with an insatiable appetite. While reading, she prayed to understand God's Word and know His truth. She began listening to Christian sermons that were preached from the Bible. And all the while, panic and anger grew within her. She found that Mormonism taught a different gospel than what the Bible taught. Then she read 2 Corinthians 11:4: "For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the Spirit you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough." "Another Jesus!" Lynn thought, "That's exactly what we have."
As the reality of the false nature of Mormonism set in, Lynn became paralyzed with fear. "I felt sick," she says. She didn't believe that all the differences between what the Bible said and Mormonism taught could be explained away by the unsubstantiated but firmly held Mormon rationalization of an incorrect Bible translation. Lynn's spiritual world was falling apart and she didn't know what to do.
On a chilly October evening in 2006, Lynn, Mike, and their daughter Katie huddled together under blankets on the old tan couch in their downstairs rec room. Popcorn at the ready, the family settled in to watch the movie Luther. Lynn's heart pounded as the movie portrayed Martin Luther's struggle against the legalistic system of the Roman Catholic Church. She could readily identify with Luther; she was facing the same struggle within herself. Did she believe the Mormon system of obedience to laws and ordinances would secure her forgiveness and eternal life? Or did she believe what the Bible taught, that Jesus alone was the Way, the Truth and the Life? Lynn relates, "I was simply overwhelmed by the Spirit. I went face down in surrender to Christ."
Lynn's born-again experience changed everything. All the faith in Mormonism and its trappings that she had fostered for thirty years began to dissolve away -- replaced by faith in Christ and His Word. Lynn and Mike continued to go to the local LDS chapel, but they often supplemented their Sundays with worship at a nearby Christian church. Lynn was particularly impacted by a sermon she heard about the cross of Christ. As a Mormon, she had never held any reverence for the cross; LDS culture is generally apathetic toward it and shuns being identified with this historic Christian symbol. As Lynn thought and prayed about the sermon she had heard, she realized that her LDS temple garments, a symbol of her faith in Mormonism, were a hindrance to her new faith in Christ; they were like a veil positioned between Lynn and her God. So she made a promise to God that she would no longer wear her Mormon temple garments; instead, she would wear a cross. In December 2006, Lynn removed her temple garments, determined to never put them on again.
A few days later, on Christmas Day, Mike gave Lynn a beautiful necklace with a cross pendant. Lynn explains that this was "a tender show of his love to me and his support of the change happening in our lives." As Mike fastened the chain around Lynn’s neck, she felt fulfilled, hopeful, and at peace.
When Christmas break ended, Lynn returned to BYU with some measure of trepidation. For the first time since she began teaching there -- indeed, for the first time in almost three decades -- she was not wearing her temple garments. Instead, she wore a cross hidden beneath her clothes.
Lynn continued to grow in her new relationship with Christ. Reading the Bible, she came to know Him better and to love Him more and more. Day by day Lynn was learning to trust Him, learning to let go.
Leaving a Life of Dreams
It wasn't long before Lynn understood that her new faith would be very costly. By March, she knew she would have to leave BYU. Her first inkling came when she realized her love and support for her students gave them a false impression. The students thought their positive experiences with Lynn in prayer and faith-centered conversation were an outgrowth of Mormonism, not of Lynn's relationship with Christ. She knew God was not pleased with this, and neither was she.
Later Lynn received a compelling email. A friend had posed a question to one of the LDS apostles: If a BYU professor became born-again in Christ, could that professor remain at BYU? The answer was an unequivocal "No." That email confirmed that Lynn's time at BYU was almost over.
At the end of the academic year, Lynn took a one-year leave of absence from BYU and accepted a one-year teaching position at a university in Florida. Midway through, in January 2008, Mike and Lynn decided they would not return to Utah upon the completion of Lynn’s year-long commitment. Lynn resigned from her coveted and fulfilling position at BYU on faith. The Wilders had no idea what the future held for them, but they trusted that future to God.
By March, Lynn's BYU resignation was official; she now felt free to resign her LDS Church membership. Michael and Lynn composed their resignation letters and, in honor of John 3:16, Mike hand-delivered them to the LDS Church Office Building on 3/16/2008. Months later Lynn and Mike received their official releases from the LDS Church. It should have been a very joyous day, and in many respects it was. But leaving Mormonism for the sake of Christ cost Lynn much more than her job and her church community.
As a Mormon, Lynn had held on to a dream of an eternal future with children and grandchildren gathered around her table, celebrating their status as a "forever family." She lost that dream. As Mormons, Lynn and Mike enjoyed great honor as worthy LDS parents with three missionary sons. They lost that honor. As Mormons they had enjoyed peace in the family -- sharing their faith, values, and life goals. They lost that peace.
Michael and Lynn lost their home in Utah with its beautiful and inspiring mountain view. They lost their friends, at work and at church, as they followed Christ's leading to Florida. They lost their financial stability, as Lynn left a secure tenured teaching position for a one-year visiting position. And they lost the respect they had earned and enjoyed in their work and social environments. Lynn was no longer a worthy Mormon employed by the "one true church"; she and Mike were apostates, whispered about in hallways, feared and pitied at the same time.
At first Lynn was devastated by the hostility and malice directed toward them by some members of the LDS Church. Rumors and accusations spread like wildfire across the Internet. But Lynn came to realize and accept the truth she found in the Bible: Rejection is part of a Christ-centered life.
Rather than dwell only on the heavy cost of surrendering her life to Christ, Lynn also took stock of the blessings God had bestowed upon her and her family. Lynn's temporary teaching position became permanent. She and Mike found a new home, new friends, and a new church. Old, impossible dreams that had hinged on personal achievement were replaced by new dreams sustained by the promises of a faithful God.
In Lynn's new life of faith, the gains far outweigh the losses. Lynn has gained a new God. "The God I came to is so much more awesome than the Mormon god I left," she says. She has gained a personal, intimate relationship with Jesus, something completely foreign to her in her earlier faith. Lynn now knows Christ's love for her and His continuing tender care. She has gained spiritual freedom. When Lynn experienced her Christian baptism in a clear, spring-fed stream, she recalls, "I literally saw and felt the chains of false religion fall off my body."
Lynn cherishes her forgiveness in Christ. She has found that confessing her sins provides an "indescribable release" from the weight of her transgressions. She has regained peace in her family; all of her children and their spouses are free from Mormonism, and most of them are working together to reach Mormons with Christ's true Gospel of grace.
And Lynn has gained deep and abiding peace overall. She has learned to trust God in all things. It is no longer up to her to fix or achieve. She is called to love the Lord her God with all her heart, with all her soul, with all her mind, and with all her strength. This is Lynn's new life in Christ.
A Faithful God
Lynn admits, "The journey to truth was painful." However, she adds, "In the worst of times I heard Christ speak life into me, and tell me He loves me and it would all be okay. By the love of a vigilant God I made it to truth, and in the end, the freedom is so worth the continuing refining!"
Looking back to December 2006, when Lynn exchanged her Mormon temple garments for a Christian cross, it is, in a way, an illustration of her entire faith journey. For Mormons, the garments represent hope, safety, and a future. To cast them aside is to abandon all eternal blessings and the hope of eternal life. Lynn shed this false hope and replaced it with a cross, a symbol of God's merciful and sufficient provision for total and complete reconciliation with Him. The cross represents God's amazing love and His sure promise of an eternity with Him. Lynn gave up spiritual death for Christ's gift of abundant Life. The Truth--God's Truth--has set Lynn Wilder free.
Several of the Wilder’s children and children-in-law are actively serving God with the band Adam’s Road. Visit the band’s website to hear about God’s amazing work in their lives. You can contact Lynn at - lynnkwilder [at] hotmail.com.