Posts Tagged ‘Mormon Missionaries’

2016 was a good year for us  (if not for U.S. democracy, the rest of the world, and the environment).

In our first half-year, in 2013, this blog received 2,500 hits; in our first full year, 2014, it received 8,000; in 2015, 9,800; and in 2016 the number jumped to 14,900.

We also hit 400 subscribers in December; had our best month ever in that same month, with over 2,100 hits; and had our best week ever, last week, with just under 1,000 hits.

Our 10 most popular posts in 2016 were:

  1. Anarchist Science Fiction: Essential Novels
  2. Alcoholics Anonymous Does More Harm than Good
  3. A very brief History of Calypso and Soca Music
  4. Back to the Terrifying Future: Sci-Fi E-book Giveaway
  5. A very brief History of Country Music
  6. God’s Thug: Brigham Young
  7. A very brief History of Funk Music
  8. Alt-Country Player Al Perry
  9. Review: The Martian, by Andy Weir
  10. Homecoming for Mormon Missionaries

During the coming year we’ll continue to post daily (well, we’ll try) on music, politics, science fiction, religion, atheism, cults, science, skepticism, humor, and anything else we think is interesting and that our readers might enjoy.

Over the coming month, we’ll post an excerpt from our upcoming title, Venezuelan Anarchism: The History of a Movement, by Rodolof Montes de Oca, reviews of two new sci-fi novels, Ken Macleod’s Insurgence and Robert Charles Wilson’s Last Year, more on the “Russian hacking” affair, more interesting and marginally useful Internet crap, and a good old fashioned Religion Roundup.

Be on the lookout for another e-book giveaway sometime reasonably soon.


"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.

"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. 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.

2. Ibid.

3. Ibid.

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.

"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. Here, he describes his miserable homecoming. We’d suggest that non-Mormons read the preceding post, Mormonism and Chastity, prior to reading this. We’ll publish follow-up posts in the coming days.)


Returning Without Honor

It’s not hard to guess what my twenty-four-hour trip home was like: lots of time to think, lots of time to shudder at the thought of facing my parents. Lots and lots of time, but still not enough. I didn’t want the trip to end. I wanted it to last forever. I didn’t want the plane to land. Ever.

When the trip finally did end, I sat on the plane and waited until everyone else had exited. I couldn’t keep the flight staff waiting, so I forced myself up and dragged myself off the plane. When I neared the end of the exit tunnel, just before rounding the final corner where I would be in view of the people waiting in the reception area, I stopped. I set my luggage down and leaned against the wall. I didn’t want to walk around that corner where I knew my parents were waiting—I didn’t feel I could take it. I wanted to lie down, close my eyes and vanish.

I knew I couldn’t stay inside an airplane exit tunnel forever, so I walked past the corner to face what lay ahead. I immediately saw my parents standing there all alone. Everyone else had left. This meeting was terribly hard on them as well, and my making them wait so long had made it even worse.

Dad forced a little smile. I know mom wanted to, but she couldn’t. It was obvious she’d been crying, and I’m sure she had shed many tears during the previous two days.

Unlike some other missionaries, I was blessed with wonderful, loving parents, both of whom welcomed me home with open arms, glad to see me return to them alive and healthy. We exchanged big hugs and then they took me home. They certainly still loved me, and they made sure I understood that. They never once said or did anything to make me doubt it. But my mother’s dreams had been shattered. I would later discover that she wrote in her journal that it was the saddest experience of her life. Nevertheless, her love and concern for me had not diminished in the slightest.

An example of how closely my mother stood by my side was the fact that she was angry about my being disqualified from returning to Brigham Young University, and therefore had to forfeit the academic scholarship that BYU had previously awarded me. That was because excommunicated former members and disfellowshipped members are not allowed to attend BYU. She was also frustrated and disappointed by my treatment as a disfellowshipped member of the Church. Many Mormon families would have stood by the Church in all its “righteous” judgment and ostracization of an “unworthy” son, but my parents stood by me as much as could be expected of active and devoted members. I will always be grateful to them for that.

The Unpleasantness of Church

The first thing a missionary does when he or she returns home is to give a homecoming talk. I didn’t. I wasn’t even allowed to pray in church, let alone give a talk.

My mother no doubt had been talking excitedly to people in the ward about my return. I’m sure the fact that I would soon be returning was announced to everyone at church. (I wonder how many noticed that I returned a week earlier than I was supposed to.) The ward members were no doubt all expecting to hear me speak on the first or second Sunday after my return. Instead, my return was merely announced by the bishop during sacrament meeting.

I stood up for everyone to see, then sat down without saying a word. Minutes later the sacrament was passed around for all worthy attendees. Because I was a disfellowshipped sinner I was unworthy to partake, and the fact that I merely passed the trays of bread and water on to the person sitting beside me was a physical manifestation of my unworthiness.

All of these obvious signs sent a clear message to everyone in the ward: the newly returned missionary had sinned. Every time I attended church, I was wearing the figurative scarlet letter I had stitched in Victoria Park with Mandy.

People at church were nice and I made some friends, but on the whole it was socially awkward and I hated going. I only went to make my parents happy. I knew I had hurt them enough. I didn’t want to do any more to them than I already had. So I went through the motions.
None of this did my self-esteem any good.

Prelude to Excommunication

Before long I met a girl and we started to date steadily. The relationship developed, and sex became a regular part of it. I was sinning while on probation.

My probation period involved regular interviews with the bishop and stake president. For a while I lied to them and said I was doing fine. Before long, though, I decided I had had enough. I no longer wanted to lie just so I could continue to participate in a charade that I wanted no part of. I wanted to end it all. So I confessed.

It is probably hard for nonmembers to understand, but at the time I had absolutely no harsh feelings against the Church. I had been programmed to blame myself for my unhappiness, and that’s what I did. I wasn’t angry at the Church or any of its members, but I hated my life, and wanted to stop play acting. Something had to change and confessing was the only way I knew to change things. Asking to have my name removed from Church records and my membership cancelled never crossed my mind. I was still following the programming from my life-long indoctrination and was ready and willing to accept whatever judgment the Church pronounced on me.
I had not yet concluded that the Church was false, but I was very unhappy in it and I wanted out, at least for a while. In the back of my mind I still felt that if any church were true, then it was certainly the Mormon Church. I believed it was the most rational and logical of all religions, offering better, more thorough answers to all the deep theological questions. It explained very clearly where we came from, why we are here, and where we are going after we die. At that time, though, I needed a break. I decided to step away from religion entirely, believing that if I ever went back to religion, it would definitely be to the Mormon Church.

*   *   *

I now look back at my belief about the Church and laugh at it for two reasons. First, I had not studied other religions, so my assumption that the Mormon Church possessed the best answers was based on what I had been told by the Mormon Church itself. Second, I hadn’t even studied Mormonism (which is typical of the vast majority of Mormons), so I believed it to be logical and rational—again, based on what it said about itself. So I allowed myself to remain in confusion for years regarding a belief system that is anything but logical and rational, a belief system that is in fact very easy to refute.

I foolishly postponed investigating the Church. For the time being I just wanted out, and as long as all my unconscious baggage remained, confessing seemed like the most natural thing to do. Unfortunately, I waited ten years to do my investigating; I say “unfortunately,” because recovering former believers of a particular belief system must come to terms with the question, “Is it true?” Until they do that, they will always carry around a ball and chain—of various weight and size depending on their experience with the organization in question, and the nature of that organization. When I finally did my studying and saw how easily the Mormon Church can be seen for what it is, I kicked myself for not doing it years earlier. The truth really does set one free.

(to be continued)

"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. Here, he describes the Mormon attitude toward sexual “sin.” We’ll run further excerpts from the book over the next few days.)


Better Dead and Clean than Alive and Unclean

It may be hard for nonmembers to comprehend just how serious Mormons consider my sin [sex outside of marriage] to be. Former prophet Spencer W. Kimball said that “[e]ven mortal life itself, when placed upon the balance scales, weighs less than chastity.” In his 1969 book, Miracle of Forgiveness, President Kimball quoted two other Mormon prophets: David O. McKay said, “Your virtue is worth more than your life. Please, young folk, preserve your virtue even if you lose your lives” (not at all a pleasant thing to believe for rape victims who are overpowered but not killed); and Heber J. Grant said, “There is no true Latter-day Saint who would not rather bury a son or a daughter than to have him or her lose his or her chastity” (both quotes on p. 63). Apostle Bruce R. McConkie, in the 1966 version of his classic Mormon Doctrine, put it bluntly: “Better dead clean, than alive unclean. Many is the faithful Latter-day Saint parent who has sent a son or daughter on a mission or otherwise out into the world with the direction, ‘I would rather have you come back home in a pine box with your virtue than return alive without it.’” (p. 124)

Many members take all this very seriously. One example is the story mentioned in this book’s preface about Brother Borden’s reaction to his son Bradley having been stabbed while serving a mission in Russia. Bradley suffered knife wounds to his upper intestines, liver and pancreas. An article in The Arizona Republic (October 19, 1998) reported the incident. It describes the reaction of Bradley’s mother, Myrna Borden, as follows:

[W]hen the 20-year-old recovers from the stabbing, his mother said Sunday, “I know he’ll want to go back to Russia” . . . “Being a missionary is the best thing a young man can do,” Myrna Borden said. “It’s what the prophet of our church has asked our young men to do.

The article said this about Brother Borden’s reaction:

[T]he young man’s father added that there are worse things for a Mormon missionary than wounds or even death.

That must have put a tremendous amount of pressure on Bradley to overcome any fear he may have had of returning to Russia after his recovery. Then the article said this about the family’s reaction:

[Mr. Borden] said that when their church president came to their home Saturday and said, “There has been a problem with Bradley,” the family was “worried that he’d done something unworthy.”

They were apparently relieved to find out that Bradley hadn’t done what I had done, but had instead merely been stabbed by drunken Russians. Quoting from Apostle Bruce R. McConkie’s Mormon Doctrine, Brother Borden explained why they were so glad to hear this:

You see, we’d rather have him come home in a pine box than do something unworthy,” Dale Borden said, battling to hold back tears.

Tears coursed down Borden’s cheeks as he explained the importance of his missionary son “choos[ing] the right, do[ing] what is right, return[ing] with honor.”

[Bradley’s brother] Christopher said he recently had come home from a mission in New Zealand.

[Christopher] related how he and fellow missionaries were told that in ancient Greece, Spartan mothers told their sons to come home carrying their shields or carried on their shields—to have fought well or to have died fighting well.

“We want Bradley to return with his shield, or on it,” Christopher said.

That’s pressure. If Bradley was frightened enough by his experience to not want to continue his missionary work in Russia, his family would probably not have been supportive, especially after having gone public with their views. And if, instead, Bradley had succumbed to the tempting invitation of a pretty Russian girl who fell madly in love with him, and he with her, his family might have actually preferred that he were dead.

Quoting from the article again, we learn:

Bradley Borden was stabbed once in the stomach, and his fellow Mormon missionary, José Manuel Mackintosh of Nevada, was killed.

We are left wondering what the Mackintosh family thought of the Borden family’s preference that Bradley come home in a pine box rather than “do something unworthy.” Perhaps the Mackintoshes would rather have seen their son come home outside of a pine box, even if he had done something so human as to commit a “sin” as defined by the leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.