(The following is an excerpt from Jack B. Worthy’s The Mormon Cult: A Former Missionary Reveals the Secrets of Mormon Mind Control. The previous excerpt covered former Elder Worthy’s miserable homecoming after his mission.)
When I told my stake president I had had premarital sex, he asked me who the girl was. I was surprised that he asked and wondered aloud if I was required to tell him. He said I was. The fact that he knew I had taken his daughter out to dinner didn’t cross my mind at the time, but it would be tempting for a father in his position of power to want to convince an indoctrinated confessor that God required him to say who it was he had slept with. The only reason I took his daughter out on a date was because he had encouraged me to date Mormon girls.
This may have been one reason for him to ask me who the girl was, but it certainly wasn’t the only one. The Church Handbook of Instructions states that “[d]isclosure of the identity of others who participated in a transgression should be encouraged as part of the repentance process, especially when this can help Church leaders encourage the repentance of those participants . . .” It goes on to say that “[i]f a bishop learns that a Church member outside his ward may have been involved in a serious transgression, he informs that member’s bishop confidentially. When members of different wards transgress together, and when one has disclosed to his bishop the identity of the other transgressor, the bishop to whom the disclosure was made consults with the bishop of the other member.”1
As if that weren’t enough of a violation of privacy, bishops are instructed to advise “the ward Relief Society president in confidence when a member of the Relief Society has been disciplined or was a victim.”2 So even female “victims” who have chosen not to share an extremely personal matter are not shielded.
In addition to spreading gossip in the name of love, Church leaders also gather dirt: “If [a] member denies an accusation that the bishop has reliable evidence to support, the bishop . . . gathers further evidence . . .” He may do so himself or “assign two reliable Melchizedek Priesthood holders to do so . . . instruct[ing] them not to use methods that . . . could result in legal action.”3 (Is Salt Lake City’s Temple Square really all that different from Red Square?)
I told him who the girl was because I believed I had to. I regret having done so, even though it wasn’t the stake president’s daughter, and even though nothing at all happened to the girl, because she wasn’t a member. I regret having done so for the same reason I regret having confessed anything to him at all: it was none of his business.
A Church court was quickly arranged and I received a letter informing me of the time and date. I arrived at the chapel with my parents. They were not allowed to attend the court so they waited outside in the lobby. My bishop escorted me in. I wasn’t prepared for what awaited me. Filling the small room to capacity were fifteen men in suits and ties, standing around a conference table. This was standard procedure: “All three members of the stake presidency and all twelve members of the high council participate in a stake disciplinary council.”4
My court was a stake-level event, rather than a more local, ward-level event. That is because I was a Melchizedek Priesthood holder, and I was a likely candidate for excommunication. The Melchizedek Priesthood is held by virtually every Mormon male over the age of eighteen. A member of the Melchizedek Priesthood can only be excommunicated by the stake president. Everyone else, namely all women and children, can be excommunicated by their local bishop.5
I was escorted to the end of the table and stood there looking at all those men, and they at me. It was the most intimidating moment of my life.
The first counselor of the stake presidency led the hearing. He instructed everyone to sit. He explained the charges, after which he asked me to confirm my guilt. After going over what I had confessed, I was then subjected to questions from all of the men, as if I were at a press conference. The questions involved actions going back even before my mission and were mostly related to masturbation, pornography, and sex. I went through the robotic motions of the indoctrinated and answered them all, which is something I now regret very much. My hearing was a perverted and bizarre expression of power by some men over another—in this case, me.6
When asked, I chose to say nothing on my own behalf and did not plead to keep my membership. My bishop, a good man, sat beside me throughout the hearing. I found no mention of a bishop doing this in the Church Handbook of Instructions, but the bishop appeared to be acting as a character witness in my defense. He spoke admiringly of my parents, saying they were a wonderful asset to the ward, but, oddly, the only thing he seemed to be able to say in my defense was that I was very intelligent—something he repeated three times during his presentation. I appreciated the compliment but wondered how that particular characteristic (putting aside the question of its validity) was supposed to help me in this type of court, one where my eternal soul was on the brink for the grave act of having had consensual sex with another unmarried adult.
I was judged guilty based on my confession to the stake president. The sentence was excommunication. I was never told that “[i]nformation received in a member’s confession cannot be used as evidence in a disciplinary council without the member’s consent.”7 Even had I known that, I would probably have kept quiet and allowed information from my private confession to stand as evidence. But it only seems fair that a defendant should know the rules of the game before it starts.
In closing, the officiator said he was not asking anything of me that was not also required of him. He, after all, was required to maintain a monogamous relationship with his wife. Masked behind his indignant tone, I detected what seemed to be some resentment. I felt as if he was taking the opportunity to vent a little self-righteous frustration at my expense.
Not only did his tone of voice surprise me, but I was puzzled by his statement. He certainly knew I was well aware of the fact that the Church required him to live a monogamous marriage. Why state something so obvious? Perhaps the law of chastity, which required him to remain monogamous, may have been causing him some frustration. Or perhaps he just felt compelled, as the officiator, to say something that would emphasize the moral gulf between me and my ecclesiastical judges.
It is interesting to note that his analogy equated premarital sex between two consenting adults with an extramarital affair. And it is even more interesting to consider the fact that, if he had held me up against Joseph Smith, I would have looked pure as snow. Joseph Smith was a man with sexual morals that would shock most people who would approve of my having had consensual premarital sex. He had “sexual relationships with polygamous wives as young as fourteen, polyandry of women with more than one husband, [and] marriage and sexual co-habitation with foster daughters.”8
Considering the behavior of the Church’s founder, it is ironic that I was judged unfit for membership because I had sex outside of marriage. But I’m not complaining. It is much more interesting and re-warding to sit among the audience outside the dome of The Mormon Show than it ever was acting on the set.
(to be continued)
1. 1998 Church Handbook of Instructions, p. 92.
4. Ibid., p. 96.
5. “[B]ishops normally administer Church discipline unless evidence indicates that a person who holds the Melchizedek Priesthood is likely to be excommunicated” (1998 Church Handbook of Instructions, p. 90).
6. Mormonism is a patriarchal society with very strict moral codes pertaining to sex. To ensure that members adhere to the rules, they are frequently interviewed by their male bishops in face-to-face, one-on-one meetings, and detailed questions about their sexual lives (including masturbation) are asked of both sexes beginning at the age of twelve. (It should be noted that not all bishops do this.) In The Demon-Haunted World, Carl Sagan writes about the perverted aspects of the Inquisition that I think are relevant, although much more extreme: “There were strong erotic and misogynistic elements—as might be expected in a sexually repressed, male-dominated society with inquisitors drawn from the class of nominally celibate priests. The trials paid close attention to the quality and quantity of orgasm in the supposed copulations of defendants with demons or the Devil . . . ‘Devil’s marks’ were found ‘generally on the breasts or private parts’ according to Ludovico Sinistrari’s 1700 book. As a result pubic hair was shaved, and the genitalia were carefully inspected by the exclusively male inquisitors. . . .” Of course I’m not saying that modern-day Mormonism is the equivalent of the Inquisition. There certainly isn’t any examination of genitalia going on in disciplinary courts. However, questioning young girls about masturbation is still a form of perversion, albeit more subtle and less harmful. But unquestioned power often leads to harmful actions, and a patriarchal society such as the Mormon Church lends itself to instances of abuse, including sexual abuse.
7. 1998 Church Handbook of Instructions, p. 92.
8. D. Michael Quinn, The Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power, p. 89.