"The Mormon Cult" front cover(The following is an excerpt from Jack B. Worthy’s The Mormon Cult: A Former Missionary Reveals the Secrets of Mormon Mind Control. Near the end of his mission, former Elder Worthy fell into unworthiness. He was subsequently excommunicated. Here, he describes the “normal” events that follow a worthy missionary’s  homecoming.)

 

What Might Have Been

After my mission I met an eighteen-year-old boy who, before going on his mission, had regular sexual relations with his girlfriend. He lied through all his interviews and went on his mission unworthily. Several years later, he told me that after he had been on his mission for about a year, he couldn’t take the guilt any longer and confessed to his mission president. Instead of getting sent home as he expected he would, his mission president told him that he appeared to have repented and had suffered enough through his year-long guilt.

In order to contemplate a “what if” scenario, I don’t need to go as far as wondering how I would have turned out if I had never had sex with Mandy. All I have to wonder is, What if after I had had sex with Mandy I didn’t confess to my mission president? What if I had instead waited a year or two and then confessed to my bishop? It’s possible that by then I would have regained a strong testimony.

After returning home, I would have immediately begun to lie about my mission, which is something that all active RMs do publicly. The post-mission process of an RM [Returning Missionary] reverently speaking about his or her mission as a wonderful, humbling experience made up of a sequence of spiritual events is not initiated by the RMs themselves. It is a cultural requirement. The first thing any RM has to do after returning home is to stand up in front of the entire congregation and give a homecoming talk in his or her ward, usually addressing several hundred members.

The Church Handbook of Instructions tells bishops to invite “newly called full-time missionaries to speak in a sacrament meeting before they depart.” These “talks . . . should be worshipful, faith promoting, and gospel oriented. The missionary should have sufficient time to deliver a spiritual message” (p. 86). It is understood that this applies equally to RMs, and the same section of the Church Handbook suggests that a sacrament meeting include both a newly called missionary and an RM. RMs are expected to include at least one or two spiritually uplifting stories from their mission experience.

In my homecoming talk, I would have been expected to bear my testimony, and I would have done so. “One of the most important components of a successful welcome-home sacrament meeting message will be [the returned missionary’s] testimony. . . . From the depths of your heart and soul, share what you feel. Let there be no misunderstanding of where you stand when it comes to a testimony of the truth.”9 I would have received praise for the spiritual portions of my talks, and would have been increasingly praised each time my reports of divine guidance increased in number and vividness. If I had gone through this process, perhaps today, more than twenty years after my mission, I would truly believe that my mission was filled with miracles.

Members are taught to believe that God plays a hand in helping missionaries to learn their particular language, and in guiding them in their quest for souls receptive to His message. Missionaries therefore begin their missions believing that there is a direct correlation between a missionary’s faith and obedience on the one hand, and language skills and number of baptized converts on the other. Reality on the streets quickly shows them that this is not the case. Instead, missionaries see that language skills are associated with diligent study and innate ability, and that the number of baptisms achieved is related to a missionary’s efforts and sales ability—an ability based on things such as charisma, appearance, and the gift of gab.

The vast majority of missionaries must see these obvious facts. And even for those who are somehow able to blind themselves to it all, these inconvenient truths undoubtedly exist to one degree or another in their minds. But they exchange the reality based on evidence for a reality based on fabrications. This is done through a process that begins immediately upon the missionary’s return home. Missionaries who have lost their testimonies during their missions have to lie:

The stake president counsels returned missionaries to teach the gospel in talks they give. As they speak in sacrament meetings, they should share experiences that strengthen faith in Jesus Christ, build testimonies, encourage members to live and share the gospel, and illustrate gospel principles. They should avoid travelogues, inappropriate stories about their companions or others, disparaging remarks about the areas in which they served, and other matters that would be inappropriate for a servant of the Lord to discuss in the sacred setting of a sacrament meeting.10

There are two choices for those who literally don’t have any spiritual, faith-promoting material, or, for that matter, a testimony: 1) give talks in church void of any spiritual, faith-promoting material, and without bearing one’s testimony; or 2) begin the process of emphasizing and exaggerating some facts, while de-emphasizing and omitting others, and then adding, “I know the Church is true.” They must choose between feeling uncomfortable about lying, or feeling uncomfortable about not living up to their families’ and ward members’ expectations. It is not hard to guess what virtually all RMs choose to do. Can you blame them?

RMs need a supply of spiritual experiences that they can share with other Church members. Good stories of a spiritual, faith-building nature are an essential part of fitting the mold of a successful RM. So, “Mission stories” are fabricated to strengthen the testimonies of other members—especially youngsters and newcomers. Elder Christensen, former president of the Mexico City Mission, put it this way: “[I]f you are not careful, some harm could be done to the younger members in the congregation.”11 The fabrications are slight at first, but grow with each telling. An RM will very likely judge these lies as not only harmless, but in fact helpful: “If you focus on the experiences that strengthened your testimony of the restored gospel, in the process you will likely strengthen others.”12

On my mission I lied to a pretty girl wearing a silk nightgown. I told her that I felt the Spirit when she asked, because I knew it was the right answer to give. I’m sure I was not unique in this regard. All missionaries have no doubt exaggerated the strength of their testimonies in order to instill testimonies in their investigators. The talks RMs give in their wards are just extensions of that.

A person can’t lie for long, though. Continually lying within a pressure-ridden religious context, and under the pretext of doing good, is especially hard, so RMs soon start to believe their own stories.

Church members also help RMs to believe their own stories. RMs receive positive feedback from the Mormon community every time they tell a good story. The strength of members’ reactions is generally correlated to the degree of inspiration that a story conveys. RMs will “note that the congregation’s attention level will greatly increase when [they] include a personal interest example that also includes a gospel message.”13 This works as a very powerful positive reinforcement, causing RMs to believe they are doing the right thing, and most likely encouraging them to believe their own stories.

Missionaries focus on the one or two times over a two-year period in which the answer to their prayer for guidance actually seemed to lead to a person who opened the door and then went on to be baptized. The idea that this could have happened by chance disappears after telling the story often enough and then being praised. Other spiritual events are “remembered” and told, and, after enough years go by, along with enough tellings of the stories, missionaries end up believing firmly in them. At the same time, they forget all the examples that undermine this faith-promoting view of reality.

This consistent, long-term distortion of the facts works like the gelatinous, insatiable monster from the 1950s horror movie, The Blob. In the end, all recollections of what actually happened are ingested by, and become part of, the new reality. Rule-breaking missionaries are either forgotten, or they are digested and transformed into obedient missionaries. They become like the forgotten, inconvenient facts de-scribed by George Orwell:

To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just so long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies—all this is indispensably necessary.14

What Orwell described is necessary for an RM’s new reality to withstand the occasional reminders of his actual mission experiences. He may be reminded of reality by other RMs who tell stories privately, or by seeing how missionary work takes place within his own ward back home. But he’ll quickly manage to bury such reminders.

The process of changing reality thus begins as soon as RMs return home. After giving their homecoming talk, many members of the ward will approach them with warm compliments and comforting praise. Their slight exaggerations, or outright lies, are thus positively reinforced, making the RMs feel good about what they said.

RMs are given numerous opportunities to tell mission stories and bear testimony in front of large groups of members. After the homecoming talk, RMs who have served in foreign countries will likely be asked on occasion to give a fireside talk about the country where they served—suddenly they are the resident expert on that country’s food, language, culture, climate, and more. During such presentations, RMs know full well that they will be expected to tell at least one inspirational story, and to end by bearing their testimony.

There is a conscious process in the Church that turns good storytellers into cultural icons. Local Church leaders have been instructed to ensure that good storytellers speak often. The Church Handbook of Instructions says, “[e]xemplary returned missionaries should also be invited to speak about missionary work in sacrament meetings and other meetings” (p. 78). It is clearly understood by all RMs that each one of them is expected to be “exemplary.” There is no middle road to happiness in Mormondom.

Fast and Testimony meeting is held on the first Sunday of every month. During this meeting, members of the ward are encouraged to stand and bear their testimony voluntarily. This monthly event is always a welcome opportunity for all RMs to once again tell a mission story, whether they are already considered to be exemplary, or whether they want to use the opportunity to work toward becoming exemplary. Each time a testimony is publicly borne, the person’s belief in it grows. This process not only helps to alter the memory of the RM, it also works to teach children—the missionaries of the future—to believe in these types of stories.

Needless to say, mission stories improve with time. And just like fish stories describing the one that got away, there is a relationship between the length of time that RMs have returned from their missions and the quality of their stories. Most, but not all, storytellers probably grow to believe in their own storie. A few are able to live with the fact that they are lying, publicly repeating their “white” lies enough times to make their presentation smooth, entertaining, and believable. They think that the end justifies the means. And it is easy for them to get away with it, because it is inappropriate for Mormons to question other members’ faith-promoting stories. In addition, most inspirational stories are of a personal nature involving few if any witnesses. The stories seldom include facts that are known to anyone but the speaker, let alone facts that can be researched and verified. “As [RMs] share these experiences, [they] can feel great confidence because, of all people, [they] are the only real authority in reporting what [they] personally experienced and felt.”15
There is a famous case on record, however, that did include verifiable facts, and it is a good illustration of what I have been talking about. As a youth I used to love to listen to talks given by Elder Paul H. Dunn, one of the Church’s General Authorities. On February 16, 1991, the Arizona Republic published the following about Elder Dunn:

Among Mormons, Elder Paul H. Dunn is a popular teacher, author and role model. As a prominent leader of the Church . . . for more than 25 years, he has told countless inspirational stories about his life:
Like the time his best friend died in his arms during a World War II battle, while imploring Dunn to teach America’s youth about patriotism.

Or how God protected him as enemy machine-gun bullets ripped away his clothing, gear and helmet without ever touching his skin.
Or how perseverance and Mormon values led him to play major-league baseball for the St. Louis Cardinals.
But those stories are not true.

Dunn’s “dead” best friend isn’t dead; only the heel of Dunn’s boot caught a bullet; and he never played baseball for the St. Louis Cardinals or any other major-league team.

Dunn acknowledged that those stories and others were untrue, but he defends fabrications as necessary to illustrate his theological and moral points.

One example of how Dunn used fabrications to illustrate his theological points is found in an article in the August 1975 New Era, an LDS magazine for the Church’s youth:

A testimony was born . . . I’ve had verification upon verification that this church is true, that Joseph Smith was called and ordained to restore the gospel of Jesus Christ . . .

Before I went into combat experience, I had . . . a patriarchal blessing given to me . . . that patriarchal blessing stated in a number of paragraphs that I would live . . . to a ripe old age . . . And one of the paragraphs indicated divine intervention in time of combat.

Now there were 1,000 of us in my combat team who left San Francisco on that fateful journey, and there were six of us who came back 2-1/2 years later. How do you like that for odds! And of the six of us, five had been severely wounded two or more times and had been sent back into the line as replacements. There had been literally thousands of incidents where I should have been taken from the earth by the enemy and for some reason was not.

Regarding this story, the Arizona Republic article reveals the following:

[Dunn] has since acknowledged that only 30 soldiers in his unit died during the entire war, but he said the exaggeration of numbers is unimportant.

It is unimportant because the end, without question, justifies the means. So unimportant, in fact, that a member was excommunicated from the Church for challenging Elder Dunn’s stories before these “exaggerations” had become public knowledge.

What if I had continued to participate in this culture that successfully shaped and molded a popular role model such as Paul Dunn? What if I had experienced a period of normal Church life before confessing my sin? What if, before confessing, I had spent a year or two telling faith-promoting mission stories to large numbers of people eager to stroke my ego every time I did so? What if I had had children with a Mormon wife that I loved dearly; and what if I believed that I would lose them if I rejected the Church?

I like to think that I still would have seen the Church for what it is, that I would not have changed my mind about the facts I witnessed on my mission. But who knows? Perhaps today I would be playing my part in The Mormon Show as a local Church leader, doing my best to live a “noble and blessed life” by convincing young boys to save money for their missions. Church leaders are instructed to tell “[m]issionaries and families [to] make appropriate sacrifices to provide financial support for a mission.”16 I would no doubt tell those young boys, therefore, to start saving early, because making such a sacrifice would put them in tune with the Spirit, making their missions all the more miraculous.

“Boys,” I’d say, “it’s going to be the best two years of your lives.”

 

9. Christensen, Joe J. Welcome Home! Advice for the Returned Missionary. Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1989, p. 18.

10. 1998, Church Handbook of Instructions, p. 86.

11. Christiansen, op. cit., p. 17.

12. Ibid.

13. Ibid.

14. George Orwell, 1984, p. 163.

15. Christiansen, op. cit., p. 17.

16. 1998 Church Handbook of Instructions, p. 81.

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