Part two Beyond Mormonism: An Elder's Story (abridged)
"...A TRUE BELIEVER"
I THREW myself into Mormonism with zeal. In Mormonism, activity is the mark of faithfulness. Is he active? is the question most often asked to determine if a person is a "good" Mormon. Does he obey the dictates of the Church by adhering to the Word of Wisdom--the prohibition of coffee and tea, as well as alcohol and tobacco?
As a faithful Mormon, I willingly gave ten percent of all my earnings to the Church. Every year the bishop had a "tithing settlement" with each family in the ward. If they gave a full ten percent they were known as "full-tithers."
Tremendous emphasis was placed on attendance at meetings. Sunday mornings, for me, started with a priesthood meeting at 7 A.M., followed by Sunday school at nine. I was back at the ward by 4:30 for a sacrament meeting. On Sunday evenings I often attended a "Fireside"--a special gathering for a lecture or slide presentation.
A group of single adults met together on Monday nights for Family Home Evening. We would sing songs, follow a lesson outline prepared by Church leadership in Salt Lake City and have refreshments. The same kind of gathering was held every Monday night in every good Latter-day Saint home.
On Wednesday nights the Mutual Improvement Association (M. I.A. ) met for study groups and activities designed to make us better Mormons and better citizens. Tuesday and Thursday nights we often had leadership meetings for auxiliaries such as Sunday school or M.I.A.
Saturday mornings were priesthood leadership meetings. Also on Saturdays there would be special work projects at the stake farm or perhaps maintenance on the ward building. And Friday or Saturday nights you could count on some special program on a ward or stake level.
Of course, there was always temple work for those who held Temple Recommends-a privilege awarded to the small percentage of Mormon membership considered worthy to go through the temple. No one could go to the highest level of heaven who had not gone through the temple. We were encouraged to do genealogy research, in order that our deceased ancestors could go through the temple "by proxy," by having someone "stand-in" for them in the temple while they (the dead) agreed from "spirit prison."
And, of course, the Church considered "every member a missionary." We were expected to make contacts for the missionaries and help them get our neighbors into church.
We were kept very busy!
My own zeal did not go unnoticed. I was soon ordained through all the offices of the Lesser (Aaronic) Priesthood. And I was called to be a member of the Sunday school superintendency. After a year I was ordained into the Higher (Melchizedek) Priesthood as an EIder. When I wasn't working, I was studying Church doctrine or fellowshiping with Church members.
One evening I arrived home from work to a ringing telephone. Bishop Satteffield wanted me to come over to his office after dinner.
As I drove to the church, I wondered what the bishop could want. Inside, the bishop looked up from a sheaf of papers on his desk, rose, smiled and took my hand. He was about 35, short, with glossy black hair and a winsome personality.
"Jim, I'll come right to the point. We've been watching your progress in the gospel. We are very pleased with you."
I glowed with pride. "Thank you very much. I just want to serve!"
"You certainly have the respect of the teachers and the children. That's the only thing that holds me back from what 1 am about to ask of you. What would you think about giving up that job?"
"Well, Bishop, of course I'll do whatever you tell me."
"I was sure you'd say that. Jim, we would like you to serve a stake mission for the Church."
I don't think anything he could have said would have surprised or delighted me more. A stake mission was similar to a full-time mission call, except that it was limited to 40 hours per month of service, plus it was local, performed within the boundaries of the local stake. It was a position of real responsibility.
"We don't want you to give us your answer tonight, Jim," continued the bishop. "Pray about it and let me know your decision within the next week or ten days."
Outside in the parking lot, I sprinted to my car. I was exhilarated. To be called to a mission after only one year in the Church! I was humbled by the thought. Even more wonderful, I realized that if I were to serve a mission, I would have to go through the temple! Obviously the bishop had thought of that.
Going through the temple, that privilege reserved for the most faithful in the Church, had been my highest goal. I already knew I would tell the bishop that I would certainly be a stake missionary.
Since the Mormon Church places high emphasis on family life, people are encouraged to marry young and have lots of children. For that reason, the Church provides opportunities for young people to meet in healthy social situations. Family Home Evening on Monday nights provided just such an opportunity, when we single adults were encouraged to meet together and have our own fellowship time. The Mutual Improvement Association organized dances, parties, and co-educational softball games. Every Sunday night after church we went out for dessert or soft drinks.
One group of girls shared an apartment and often invited the single men over for dinner on Sunday afternoons. After dinner we played the guitar, sang, and watched television.
One afternoon a new girl showed up for dinner. She was beautiful, with long black hair and dark eyes. She was also vivacious, with a good sense of humor, and I was attracted to her immediately. After dinner, I taught her some songs. She had a beautiful, trained voice. I wanted to ask her out, yet because I was so involved in my mission I didn't want any entan-gling relationships. So I decided just to be her friend. That seemed to suit her.
But after a month or so of exchanging pleasantries at church and church social gatherings, I noticed that a couple of the other young men were asking her out and she was accepting. That motivated me to ask her for a date.
We took a long drive from Santa Ana to Riverside and back. We talked about our personal hopes and dreams, but mostly about our lives as they related to the Church. She was from a good Mormon family and the Church was very important to her.
I was captivated. What I noticed most was that she was the most honest person I had ever met. By the time I dropped her off at her apartment in Santa Ana, I knew I had a problem. And its name was Margaretta.
The Los Angeles Temple sits like a jewel atop a beautifully manicured hillside in the heart of Los Angeles. The night of January 15, 1966, I en-tered the building for the first time. I made my way down a corridor to the basement in a company of dozens of others coming for the 7 P.M. session.
In my pocket was a Temple Rec-ommend, the official document signed by my bishop and my stake president. They had interviewed me and found me worthy to enter the house of the Lord.
At a checkpoint, a temple worker took my Recommend, examined it and stamped it. At a window I rented white clothing: shirt, pants, belt, socks and shoes. I also picked special temple clothing.
I was then directed to a dressing room, where I removed my clothes and placed them in a locker. I put on a garment called a "shield" a piece of white cotton cloth with a hole for the head. The garment hung down the front and back of my body with the sides open.
I walked into a booth in the Washing and Anointing Room where a temple worker recited the ritual of washing-that I would "be free from the blood and sins of this generation"-as he dipped his right hand in water, reached under the shield and touched various parts of my body. He ritualistically washed my head, "that my brain and intellect would be clear and active." He washed my ears, eyes, nose, lips, neck, shoulders, chest, arms and hands, abdomen, and then my legs and feet. The same process was repeated with oil in an anointing ceremony.
Next I was handed a special temple garment, which I was told represented the garment God gave Adam in the Garden of Eden. This garment, unless I defiled it, would be "a shield and protection for me against the power of the Destroyer until I finished my work on earth." From this day on, I was to wear such a temple garment, in place of ordinary underwear, for the rest of my life.
Then I went back to my locker and put it on, along with the white outer clothing I had rented. I carried with me the other clothing, which I was told I would put on later in the ceremony.
Then I was given a new name which I was never to reveal to anyone, except at a designated place in the temple ceremony. Now I was ready for the Creation Room.
In that room a temple worker told us we would watch a play reenacting the creation of the world. In it we would hear the voices of Elohim, Jehovah and Michael the archangel. (I knew Elohim to be the father of Jehovah, who was actually Jesus Christ. ) In the play, the three heavenly beings organized the earth: they divided the light and darkness, and they created vegetation, animals, and eventually Adam and Eve. Also in the Creation Room I swore an oath, along with about a hundred others, to sacrifice everything I had, including my life, for the Church.
The next part of the ceremony left me a little bewildered. Terms were introduced which I did not understand. The character representing Elohim, or God, addressed us. He had previously led us in the oath of sacrifice. He now told us he was required to give us "the First Token of the Aaronic Priesthood," along with its name, sign and penalty. He impressed us that what he was about to reveal to us was very sacred and that we must promise never to reveal it to anyone, under any condition, even at the peril of our lives.
The Token was a secret handshake, which he showed to us.
The name of the Token, he said, was the secret new name we had received earlier in the temple ceremony.
The sign of the Token was made by placing our right thumb under our left ear, with our palms open flat and down.
The penalty, Elohim said, was a representation of the way life could be taken. The penalty for revealing this first Token was depicted by drawing our thumbs "quickly across the throat to the right ear."
By this time I was growing most uncomfortable. I felt something was wrong. One of the things I had liked most about Mormonism was the simplicity of its church services. I liked the less than ornate settings and the plain, frank people. I now found myself in a ceremony I didn't like at all.
The rest of the evening offered a continuation of the same: plays, oaths, Tokens, signs and penalties.
Finally we went Through the Veil where we stood on one side of a curtain separating the Terrestrial World from the Celestial World and gave the Tokens and their names to a worker who stood on the other side of the veil. The handshakes took place through a hole in the veil. After we had (with much prompting) said all the right things and given all the right signs, we were admitted into a beautifully furnished Celestial Room, and the ceremony was over.
I drove home in paralyzed shock and wonder. I had absolutely no comprehension what had happened in the temple. It made no sense to me. It repulsed me and angered me. Yet working against all those fears was the thought that I was in no position to tell the Church, the Elders, the General Authorities or God what to do. I did not understand. I must be wrong. It was as simple as that. In the morning I would wake up and under-stand. Now I just wanted to go home and go to bed and go to sleep.