The following story appeared in the April 28 Idaho Catholic Register.
Father Rob Cook, pastor of St. Joseph’s Church in Sandpoint, is with Ashley and Anthony Sutton and their children. The Suttons’ marriage was convalidated, and Anthony and his children were baptized on Easter Vigil this year. (Courtesy photo/Anthony Sutton)
Editor’s note: As has been our Easter Season tradition, this issue of the Idaho Catholic Register profiles in our series, “He Left the 99 to Rescue Me,” a number of converts who received the Easter sacraments this year.
By Gene Fadness
SANDPOINT – Anthony Sutton had never been to a Catholic Mass when he stepped into St. Joseph’s Church in Sandpoint about a year ago. Yet, what was happening during the Mass struck a familiar chord.
Raised in the LDS Church and later attending an evangelical church, he was not accustomed to liturgy.
However, the congregational responses “gave me a feeling of familiarity and comfort.”
Maybe it was his past study of the Bible, but the refrains of “Lord have mercy,” and “Glory to God in the highest and peace to people of good will,” and,
“Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof,” resonated.
“I didn’t have a clue what I was doing there, but these simple phrases are the most Christian things I can imagine saying at church,” he said. “I had never experienced high-church liturgy, yet I felt a degree of familiarity and comfort, enough to keep me coming.”
The events that led him to the Sandpoint parish, however, are more complicated.
Sutton, now 36, grew up in Toole Valley, Utah, not far from Salt Lake City. Like so many of his neighbors, he was raised a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. However, his family was not that strong in their LDS faith. When his older brother enlisted in the Army, they skipped church so they could be home when his Sunday calls came. “We never really got into the habit of going back after that,” he said. His regular attendance at the LDS Church ended at about age 13 – temporarily.
Then came the teen years. “I was very rebellious.” In fact, he dropped out of high school and, later, out of college. His faith background, however, prompted him to investigate many faith traditions including Buddhism and pantheism. “I eventually settled into atheism and materialism around age 20.”
He met his wife, Ashley, 12 years ago and they civilly married a year later. Originally from Fresno, Ashley grew up Catholic, “but she was an atheist when I met her.”
A software engineer, Sutton and his young family – he now has four kids, the oldest who is 9 – settled in Utah.
About four years ago, Sutton’s masseuse told him about a YouTube series she was watching by Jordan Peterson called “Psychological Significance of the Biblical Stories.”
“While the series is from a secular perspective and not entirely Christian, it totally demolished my reliance on atheism,” Sutton said. “It proved, conclusively, that the Bible contains wisdom that we need and can’t get anywhere else. We didn’t hear much about the Bible in my Mormon background, but Peterson’s approach to the Bible from a psychological perspective completely captivated me. But I still didn’t believe in God, so that was kind of a problem.”
After that, the YouTube hunt was on. He then discovered the BibleProject by Tim Mackie, a professor of Biblical Studies in Portland who is fascinated with Jesus and his Jewish heritage. “His videos were incredibly instructive for teaching the fundamental biblical message.”
Once again starting to believe in God and in the Bible, Sutton returned to familiar territory, the LDS Church. “Despite my budding biblical literacy, I ended up leading my family into Mormonism because it was familiar to me and we were still in Utah at the time.”
In early 2022, the family moved to Sandpoint because he was able to work remotely.
Their Sandpoint LDS Church ward’s “Come Follow Me,” curriculum contained a lesson that didn’t ring true to Sutton. “They were teaching that the Original Sin was a good thing; that Eve had to transgress the lesser law in order to fulfill the greater law and be able to have a family. Otherwise, we would never have been born.”
Sutton said he objected during the class. “We don’t get to sin a little bit to make the world better. That’s what Satan said in the creation story when he told Eve, ‘You certainly will not die. God knows well that when you eat of it, your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods, who know good and evil.’ ” (Genesis 3:4,5)
This time, Sutton said, he felt like he could never go back to his childhood faith. For about a year, the family went to a local non-denominational evangelical Bible church loosely associated with Calvary Chapel. “While our pastor was incredibly smart, I found that I yearned for teaching authority rather than one very smart man’s opinion on scripture.”
Anthony and Ashley Sutton are with their four children at St. Joseph’s Church in Sandpoint. (Courtesy photo/Anthony Sutton)
The online search resumed. “I wanted to get back to first principles. I grew up in this Mormon and lightly Protestant context that kind of tells you that if you apply yourself, you can get all the answers.” One of the answers his research was revealing, he said, is that LDS idea that there was a “great apostasy,” wherein the authority to teach and act in the name of Christ ended at the death of the original apostles, was not true.
“Needless to say, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the opposite is true. Not only has there been a strong continuation of the apostolic tradition and a direct line back to Christ, but the writings we have from the first four centuries of Church Fathers are rich and plentiful. It is a miracle when you think about it – the way the truth has been preserved.”
His study of Church history led him to the conclusion that he would become either Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox. “I was really torn, leaning to Eastern Orthodoxy but my wife was leaning Catholic.”
Sutton studied the issues that divide the two great lungs of the Church, dating back to the Great Schism of 1054. “I was binge watching these long-form discussions between Eastern Orthodox and Catholic priests.”
He eventually decided on Catholicism, he said, because for all its beauty and tradition, Orthodoxy does not have a central teaching authority and is thus influenced by whatever secular society in which it finds itself, be it the Greeks in the Greek Orthodox faith or the Russians in the Russian Orthodox Church, among others.
“The advantage of the Catholic Church is that the teaching authority is centralized, so you create transnational independence,” Sutton said. “Italy could cease to exist and the Catholic Church would function as always. One bad pope or a series of bad popes could not lead the Catholic Church astray. The evidence is overwhelming that even though popes are very human and some were very sinful, they have not been able to destroy the Church.”
It was about at that time – during the research into Catholicism and Orthodoxy – that the Suttons, on their own initiative, set foot in St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Sandpoint.
At the Easter Vigil, Anthony was baptized as were his children. His marriage to Ashley was convalidated in the Catholic Church. The continuity that drew the Suttons into the Church thus continues in their own lives, each writing his or her own chapter of Catholic history.
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