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Devout Mormons discover Jesus of the Bible, now helping others


SALT LAKE CITY (BP)– It was nearly 2 a.m., and Dennis Higley — a sixth-generation Mormon — was approaching a realization that would shatter the illusions of a lifetime.
His wife, Rauni, had said she could no longer be a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints because of contradictions and other problems she had discovered in church teachings. They had practically stopped speaking to each other because of the tensions. So Dennis finally had consented to purchase all of the relevant books on the church doctrine and history, sit down with his wife, and look up in full context each of the problematic teachings.
Finally, Dennis stood up, slammed all of the books shut, and said, “That’s enough.”
“That night is when the bubble of Mormonism I had been living in burst,” he said. “That night was the beginning to my in-depth studies of Mormon history and doctrine — the issues I was never told about by my church.”
That pivotal moment came in 1982. Since then, despite devastating persecution that cost them their businesses after they left the church, the Higleys have been used of God to help lead hundreds of Mormons to faith in the Jesus Christ of the Bible. The Higleys are Mission Service Corps volunteers with the North American Mission Board relating to its interfaith witness evangelism team. Under the auspices of H.I.S. (He Is Savior) Ministries in suburban Salt Lake City, they are sharing the Christ of historic biblical Christianity with those caught in the maze of Mormonism, and helping fellow Christians do likewise.
Rauni Higley was converted to Mormonism in her native Finland in 1963. A nominal Lutheran, she was impressed by the friendliness and warmth she felt from the Mormon missionaries and LDS church members.
“I was totally illiterate as far as the Bible is concerned, not really understanding who God is and who Jesus is,” Rauni said. “So it was very easy for Mormons to convince me that what they were bringing to me was biblical.”
She approached her new faith with an enthusiasm not unnoticed by LDS leaders in Finland. In less than a year she was asked to serve an 18-month “mission” in full-time service to the LDS church. It was during this time that she met Dennis, an Idaho native who was also serving a mission in Finland.
Questions about Rauni’s new faith began, however, during her first visit to the LDS temple in a village near Bern, Switzerland. There she was introduced to the secret ordinances required in Mormonism for entrance into the highest level of heaven.
“It was a shock,” she said. “In preparing for the temple experience, Mormons are told how beautiful and wonderful the experience is, and how you are getting the higher knowledge of God … . Well, when I went through the temple I didn’t experience that at all.”
She was asked to remove all her clothes, and a “shield” was placed over her body. Then she was ceremonially “washed and anointed” by a temple worker. She was given a new name and an undergarment that she was supposed to wear 24 hours a day for the rest of her life. But more alarming were the secret handshakes, accompanied by oaths of secrecy signified by signs that included a swipe of the thumb across the throat. The signs indicate how life can be taken if the handshakes are revealed to anyone outside the temple.
“I could not figure out how a loving God would hold the handshake so secret that if I was to tell somebody I would be killed the way shown in the temple,” she said. Later, she learned those and other elements of temple ceremonies had remarkable similarities with those of Freemasonry and occult religions.
Rauni also did not understand how ceremonies performed that same day “for and in behalf of” Rauni’s deceased mother and grandmother could be identical to those made for the living. She, in effect, was vowing that their lives also would be taken if they revealed the handshakes. They both were also washed and anointed by proxy for good health and bearing children and replenishing the earth. And Rauni, as their proxy, had to pledge all of their possessions to the LDS church.
“I was thinking, ‘This really doesn’t apply to the dead; it is only applicable for the living,’” she said. “Yet over 90 percent of the temple work every day is done for the dead.”
Mormons are not allowed to discuss the ceremony outside the temple, and there are no opportunities to do so while ceremonies are being conducted. So Rauni could not talk about her concerns with others. She thought that in time she would find answers to her troubling questions, but the answers never came. After her mission, Rauni moved to Salt Lake City, where she began working as a translator for the LDS church, a position she held more than 14 years. Dennis returned from his mission in Finland, and the two eventually were married in the Salt Lake City LDS temple.
One of Rauni’s assignments was to translate the temple ceremony into Finnish, which she believed would help her understand it better.
For accurate translation, she said, it is important to know the exact meaning of phrases. But while working on the project, another translator told her the president of the church himself had implied — when asked about details in the ceremony – that the meaning was not clear to him either. “Why do you have to understand them in your language any better than we do in English,” she was told the president had said.
Other issues that arose brought similar answers from the top leadership of the LDS church. “Most often they just answered, ‘Translate as it is.’ But that’s the problem,” Rauni said. “The words have to make sense. If they don’t, what are you teaching? It was very frustrating at times.”
Later, other concerns arose when researching the context of historical references in order to ensure accuracy in translation. “It opened my eyes to see that Mormonism has evolved and has been very different in the past. That started me reading more and more materials that were not readily available to the average members,” she said.
She, found, among other things:
— Alarming contradictions regarding pivotal events in the life of Joseph Smith before he founded the church in 1830.
— Historical and archeological facts that called into question the veracity of the Book of Mormon.
— Unfulfilled prophecies that according to the biblical standard of Deuteronomy 18:20-22 would mean Smith was a false prophet.
— Contradictions between current church teachings, earlier church writings and Mormon scriptures themselves.
Over the years Rauni continued fulfilling the expectations of LDS church membership, and she and Dennis both grew into positions of leadership. Dennis eventually was appointed to a spot on the stake high council, which along with the stake presidency had authority over about six to 10 church-sized “wards.” But Rauni continued to uncover more troubling evidence.
In 1982 she finally told Dennis she could no longer be a part of the church. Dennis was furious at first, taking only a cursory look at her claims.
“I said, ‘We don’t know enough about that yet,’ or gave it some other excuse,” Dennis said. “I just kept putting everything on the back burner, but she persisted in showing me these contradictions and differences, to the point that we were not talking anymore.”
The local LDS bishop was asked to speak with her, but he also claimed ignorance.
“He said, ‘You know how it is. Your husband has been on the high council for years, and when you do the work of the church and are active in it, you don’t have time to study the past,” Rauni said. “I said, ‘That’s my point exactly.’
“I can see that the reason the membership is kept busy is so they don’t find out things. If you have any free moment, you are told to go to the temple to do work for the dead.”
Dennis finally took the time to gather the materials and check out the information for himself. After he became convinced the LDS church was gravely in error, his initial response was anger.
“I didn’t want anything to do with organized religion again,” he said. “I felt like I had been the subject of a horrendous practical joke, that somewhere someone was really laughing at me for the 40 years I had lived as a faithful, active Mormon.”
But he also was determined to seek the truth. Eventually, through their own study and a series of Bible study tapes given to them by a friend, he and Rauni both accepted the Christ of the Bible and historic Christianity.
In May 1983, nearly a year after Dennis began his own research, they sent a letter to the LDS church requesting removal of their names from church records. But when their names were read in a priesthood meeting as having been excommunicated, with no reason given, rumors began to circulate about possible grievous sins they had committed. The Higleys decided the best approach was to write an extended letter to their relatives and LDS friends explaining why they were leaving. In the letter they implied that if they were mistaken in any of their findings that they would welcome correction. There was no response.
The letter and their departure so upset local church leadership, however, that the Higleys’ retail businesses were boycotted. They were finally forced by financial collapse to relocate to suburban Salt Lake City — but not before their witness helped spark revival.
They joined First Baptist Church of Vernal, Utah, a congregation with an average attendance of 70 people that had just called a new pastor with a fresh vision for reaching the community. The combination, guided by a sovereign movement of God, resulted in church members mobilizing to ultimately lead about 450 former Mormons to the biblical Christ over a period of five years.
Because of their dramatic story, the Higleys started being asked to speak to Christian groups, and they also adapted a course on Mormonism they originally taught at the Vernal church into a weekend seminar.
The original letter that they wrote to their LDS friends and relatives grew into a pamphlet directed toward Mormons that has also been made available on an Internet site. (www.exmormon.org/whylft50.htm) The Higleys answered about 2,000 e-mail letters last year, and they often spend hours on the phone talking with questioning or former Mormons. To pay the bills, Dennis now works as a remodeling contractor and Rauni is a real estate agent in Salt Lake City.
The road out of Mormonism is particularly difficult, Dennis said, because there are so many stages that must be overcome. With individuals like himself who have never known anything but Mormonism, it is particularly difficult. Dennis’ great-great-great-great grandfather joined the church in 1830, the year it was founded.
“When you are indoctrinated from the time that you are a toddler to believe that this is the only true church on the face of the earth, and you believe these are the requirements God has put on us, you don’t even question it …,” he said. “It just does not enter your mind that it could be wrong.”
After being convinced that Mormonism is false, individuals must be shown the Bible is still true
“They are taught … that the Bible is not trustworthy,” Dennis said. “They have this built-in distrust for the Word of God. So a major stepping stone for them is to believe the Bible is trustworthy, and it is the Word of God, and there is a rewarding relationship with Christ that can be had. But it is a very long process.”
In seminars with Christians, the Higleys give an overview of Mormon beliefs, highlighting the different meanings Mormons assign to the familiar terms in Christianity.
“We give them a basic background in what Mormons believe: that they have a different God, a different Jesus, a different Holy Spirit and a different plan of salvation,” Dennis said. “Those are the foundational topics that Christians need to know.”
“Often,” Rauni added, “people witness to Mormons, but they don’t clarify the differences. If you go to a Mormon and talk about Jesus Christ, they say, ‘I believe in Jesus Christ. I am a Christian too.’
“The Jesus of Mormonism is one of the billions of spirit sons of God, not God Almighty in human flesh,” she continued. “You don’t have a Jesus who has always existed as God, but he is a created being who has evolved into godhood.”
When talking with Mormons, Dennis said one approach is to simply ask them to explain in detail their concepts of God and Jesus. Then, he said, the differences can be shown from the Bible, and the Mormon must decide whether to believe the Mormon church or the Bible.
Concerning their own journey, Dennis said Christians often have sympathized about the tremendous price they have paid for their faith. He would much rather they join in celebration.
“I say we may have paid a price in the eyes of the world, but we got the prize through Jesus Christ.”