Frau Ruster and the Cure for Cognitive Dissonance
I arrived in Rendsburg, a small city in the heart of Schleswig-Holstein, in late August. Six weeks passed slowly without any revelations from heaven, and by the time we leaned our bikes against Rüsters' fence and approached the door, it was October. I'd been praying for a witness the whole time, but my hope was running low.
Interesting thing was, I was praying for Frau Rüster to get a testimony with more real intent than I was praying for myself at that point. I loved the Rüster family because Elder Callister loved them. We prayed for them morning, noon, and night, and I pled for them in my personal prayers. I don't remember what sorts of information or disinformation Pastor Kühne was feeding Frau Rüster, but I can certainly imagine, and I know the questions he raised lay at the heart of her struggle. But she wasn't about to give in to either side so easily. She wanted to know the truth about Mormonism. She wasn't about to get baptized into this "sect" unless she got an answer. Logic and persuasion were not going to work on Frau Rüster. An LDS family was fellowshipping her and her husband, but that wasn't going to make a bit of difference either. Only the answer to one particular question would do, thank you. And for some reason God wasn't in any hurry to give that answer.
I've been intrigued recently as I've read essays and articles by Latter-day Saints of prominent (or at least assumed) intellectual stature. Sometimes I get the impression they can't see the forest for the trees. Perhaps because they grew up with it, they don't see what Frau Rüster saw so clearly. The validity of the LDS Church is not to be discerned by putting all the pieces of a theological puzzle together. It isn't to be proved or disproved by determining whether Joseph Smith was involved in folk magic, by showing scientifically that Native Americans are or aren't descended from a band of wandering Israelites, or by exploring whether the politics and economics laid out in the Book of Mormon reflect Joseph's concerns about 19th-century America. I think I understand the questions and reservations thoughtful people have about Mormonism -- doctrinal, historical, ecclesiastical, cultural, and organizational. I understand them, but for the most part I don't share them. I can't. Whenever I try, I keep coming back to what happened to me and Elder Callister and Frau Rüster on October 2, 1975, in the living room of the house on Hermann-Löns-Straße.
Frau Rüster was home alone that day -- her husband was at work, her twin nine-year-old daughters at school -- but she invited us in. The predictable Pastor Kühne had been by recently with a new piece of anti-Mormon propaganda, and she was perplexed. I don't remember Frau Rüster's particular question that day -- it seemed she had an endless supply -- but I will never forget Elder Callister's answer. Maybe he had it all planned out. Maybe the Spirit whispered something to him. Or maybe he was just at his wits' end over this exasperating woman and all her doubts. Whatever the reason, he pulled from his pocket a brochure recounting Joseph Smith's story and simply read a couple of paragraphs to her:
It was nevertheless a fact that I had beheld a vision. I have thought since, that I felt much like Paul, when he made his defense before King Agrippa, and related the account of the vision he had when he saw a light, and heard a voice; but still there were but few who believed him; some said he was dishonest, others said he was mad; and he was ridiculed and reviled. But all this did not destroy the reality of his vision. He had seen a vision, he knew he had, and all the persecution under heaven could not make it otherwise; and though they should persecute him unto death, yet he knew, and would know to his latest breath, that he had both seen a light and heard a voice speaking unto him, and all the world could not make him think or believe otherwise.
So it was with me. I had actually seen a light, and in the midst of that light I saw two Personages, and they did in reality speak to me; and though I was persecuted for saying that I had seen a vision, yet it was true; and while they were persecuting me, reviling me, and speaking all manner of evil against me falsely for so saying, I was led to say in my heart: Why persecute me for telling the truth? I have actually seen a vision; and who am I that I can withstand God, or why does the world think to make me deny what I have actually seen? For I had seen a vision; I knew it, and I knew that God knew it, and I could not deny it, neither dared I do it; at least I knew that by so doing I would offend God, and come under condemnation. (JS-H 1:24-25)