CHAPTER EIGHT
A FORK IN THE ROAD

Arizona State University in 1971 was everything Ricks College was not. If Ricks had been stodgy and paralyzed, I found ASU decadent and hostile. Walking down the mall, I was confronted with those who had tuned out, shot up or dropped out.

The Students for a Democratic Society, at a booth set up on the mall, publicly advocated radical political change. Gay rights groups and representatives of women’s liberation hawked their philosophies in a carnival atmosphere.

Hare Krishnas danced in saffron robes to the jingle of bells tied to their ankles. Advocates of transcendental meditation, Bahaiism, black militarism, chemical religion and every imaginable sect vied for attention on warm desert evenings. Every guru at ASU had its followers.

I was selected as feature editor for the State Press, the university newspaper. In that capacity, I came into contact with everyone. Chicanos and Blacks sought me out to publish their causes in the newspaper. I discovered that, rather than being the radical editorialist who terrorized Ricks College, I was a conservative homebody out of sync with what was happening in the real world.

In addition to being a full-time student, I was working forty hours a week writing radio copy for Associated Press. But pressure from three years of hectically juggling my roles as full-time student, husband, father and journalist was taking its toll. After one year at ASU, and another session of summer school, I began to suffer tremendous bouts of fatigue and experience increased family and financial pressure.

One afternoon during summer session, I walked out of the journalism building and was nearly knocked over by the roasting 110-degree heat. When I arrived home, I found Margaretta sitting directly under the "swamp cooler" air-conditioner in the hallway of our mobile home. Sweat was pouring off of her and her hair was hanging limp. She simply could not take the climatic change from the cold winters and cool summers of Idaho.

"Man, you look awful," I said.

"Thanks a lot."

"No kidding, honey, are you O.K.?"
Her chin began to tremble. I sat down beside her and put my arm around her. "What’s the matter?"

She began to cry. "Everything’s the matter! You’re never home. You’re either working or in school. I’m left here all day long with a four year old and the heat is unbearable and we don’t have enough money and –"

"Hey wait! I know things aren’t easy. But I don’t know what to do about it. I’m doing the best I can."

"I want to go home."
"You mean to Idaho?"

"Yes. I want to take Erin and live with my folks for the rest of the summer."

"What about me?"

"You stay here and go to school. That’s all you really care about anyhow!"

"Hey, give me a break!"

"I’m sorry. It’s not your fault, I know. But I just can’t take any more of this. I need to get away."

I knew Margaretta was right. I couldn’t stand the thought of my family’s leaving me, even for the summer, but I didn’t know what else to do. So I put her and Erin on the bus.

I continued to go to school for the rest of the first summer session. But it was so hard without my wife and daughter that, on one weekend between sessions, I drove eighteen hours nonstop to visit them in Idaho for a few days. While I was there, I talked to the manager of the weekly newspaper in Rexburg, who offered me a job. I accepted.

We returned to Arizona just long enough to sell our mobile home. We settled in our second small apartment in St. Anthony, and Margaretta went back to work at the bank.

In 1972 the nation was healing from the wounds of Vietnam and Richard Nixon was about to landslide into his second term. As we settled into our new jobs, we began to find for the first time a kind of normalcy in our married life. For once I was working a regular schedule and at last we had enough money. Things seemed to be looking up. Soon we bought a home. I taught Erin to ride her bike. I played chess one night each week. And both Margaretta and I continued to be active in the Church.

Although our circumstances had stabilized, inwardly I was not satisfied. A nagging sense of emptiness haunted the nooks and crannies of my mind. Something within me, in quiet moments, cried out that my life was shallow and unfulfilling. What could be wrong? What was missing?

For one thing, I was beginning to feel genuine disappointment in the Church. I was becoming convinced that something basic was missing. I had tried, God knew, to fit into the organization. In fact, I had fit in – so successfully that no one knew I was dissatisfied.

But I was beginning to see that, despite Mormonism’s articulated focus on family and community, no one was really getting close to anyone else. They didn’t want anyone to know what they were really like. They didn’t want anyone to know that they were not perfect, that they had problems. Margaretta and I had lots of friends, but no close friends. Though I longed to share with others on an intimate level, my relationships with others in our ward remained superficial. No one seemed to feel free to discuss personal fears or failures.

Margaretta and I led a Young Marrieds group that met once a month for a gospel lesson and evening of socializing. One night I polled the group to see what level of communication was taking place in their marriage. I passed out slips of paper asking anonymous responses to questions like, "Have you ever discussed divorce?" and, "How often do you have a serious argument?" According to this informal poll, absolutely no marriage problems existed in our group. But, in fact, I knew our ward experienced its share of marriage breakups. And I read that, corroborating what I had heard at Ricks, Mormons experience a rate of divorce higher than the national average.

Still, we continued the charade. All was well in Zion. And on Sunday mornings we all smiled at one another across the rows.

Once released from the grind of college life, I found I had time to investigate my own inner development. I had come a long way from my Navy days, and even from the excitement of my new involvement in the Church and with my "father" in the faith, Ed Ingles. A year or so after our marriage, Margaretta and I had moved from Santa Ana and lost touch with Ed and Martha. And my desire to believe what he told me about Church doctrine, my need to be accepted – all this seemed like a long time ago.

I knew it was time to search for roots. I continued looking within myself and at the roots of Mormonism to see if I could discover something to explain the emptiness I felt.

The summer of 1972 Margaretta and I decided to include in our vacation some of the historic sites of Mormonism. We traveled to Illinois and Missouri where much early Mormon history had been enacted.

We visited Nauvoo, Illinois, the community on the banks of the Mississippi River that Joseph Smith had, by 1844, built into the largest, most thriving city in the state. Joseph had been mayor of Nauvoo as well as commanding general of the militia. He built a beautiful mansion called Nauvoo House.

We visited the grave sites of Joseph and his brother Hyrum, who had been murdered by an angry mob while being held in jail, and the guide showed us what he said were Hyrum’s bloodstains on the wooden floor of the cell.

One hot July afternoon we pulled our little travel trailer into Independence, Missouri. Latter-day Saints are convinced that Jackson County, Missouri, is the actual site of the Garden of Eden, and that Independence carried strategic importance on God’s plan for the Second Coming of Christ.

Margaretta, Erin and I walked through a large, green, vacant lot near downtown Independence, selected by Joseph Smith as the site for a large temple. This temple was to mark the point to which Jesus Christ would return at His second advent. Joseph had even laid a cornerstone for that temple. Faithful Mormons expect that the eventual construction of this temple will signal the imminent return of Christ.

At an adjacent intersection, on three corners, stood buildings representing three different Mormon organizations, each claiming to be the one True Church.

Across the street stood my own Church’s modern visitors’ center, the most beautiful and impressive of the structures.

Alongside stood the World Headquarters for the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints – the denomination behind the frame structure I had seen in Tustin, California, just after my conversion. The Reorganites have about 250,000 members and claim to be the legal continuation of the church Joseph Smith established.

The Reorganites say that Joseph, in the presence of many witnesses, and upon numerous occasions, designated his son, Joseph Smith III, to succeed him as prophet, seer and revelator of the Mormon Church. Court actions in Ohio in 1880 and in Missouri in 1894 had upheld their legal claim to succession.

Across the street from the Reorganized World Headquarters, and at the end of the vacant field, stood a small, unassuming building – the visitors’ center of the Church of Christ (Temple Lot). An elderly man inside told Margaretta and me that they had fewer than 3,000 members meeting in about thirty congregations, led by twelve apostles. The most interesting thing about this organization, we learned, is that they own the property upon which the great temple is to be built.

All three groups with holdings in Independence recognize that the temple must be built on the spot dedicated by Joseph Smith. So a stalemate exists: Jesus cannot return until the temple is built; the Church of Christ (Temple Lot) is in no position financially to build the temple; and the two organizations that could build it cannot because they don’t have access to the property. Since all three groups claim each of the other groups is apostate, there is little hope they will work out an agreement.

History came alive for me on our trip through the Mid-west. I was projected back in time to when the saints walked the streets of "Beautiful City" (the meaning of the word Nauvoo). I could almost see the prophet Joseph, shoulder-to-shoulder with the saints, as they carved out pioneer history.

But the trip posed a new and interesting question: Where did all these other Mormons fit in? They, like the Utah Church, read and accepted the Book of Mormon. They, too, believed that God had restored priesthood – the power to act for God. So where had they gone wrong? Why were they considered apostate?

I had been taught that after Joseph Smith was killed, the Church had gathered in Nauvoo for a great conference and that "the mantle of the Prophet fell upon Brigham Young." Utah Church historians said that Brigham’s face had taken on the appearance of Joseph and that he had begun to speak in Joseph’s voice as he addressed the people. Apparently there had been no doubt about how God wanted to continue the Church. All the faithful followed Brigham Young to Utah.

But now I was presented with evidence to the contrary. Many, if not most, of the faithful Mormons did not follow Brigham Young to Utah.

The Crow Creek group, which became the Church of Christ (Temple Lot), did not follow Brigham. Neither did the New Organization, another splinter group. Or the Strangites. Many groups, I learned, contend that true Mormonism never did get to Utah.

One of the early giants of Mormonism, for example, and one of those closest to Joseph Smith (who probably had the most influence on him), was Sidney Rigdon, a former Campbellite preacher. Rigdon contested Brigham Young for leadership of the Church. He led a contingent of the Church to Greencastle, Pennsylvania. Rigdon denounced Brigham Young’s teaching on the plurality of gods, plural marriage and baptism for the dead. An outgrowth of the Mormon group today is the Bickertonites, which numbers fifty congregations.

The Strangite organization, founded by James J. Strang, claims to be "the one and original Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints." Strang was the only successor to Church leadership with written credentials from Joseph Smith. Strang continued Joseph’s penchant for translation of ancient writings, translating The Plates of Laban and The Voree Record, a record ostensibly found under an oak tree near Voree, Wisconsin.

Gradually it began to dawn on me that all four parts of a typical Mormon testimony could be recited by any one of these groups. All believed Joseph Smith was a prophet, that the Book of Mormon was the Word of God, that they belonged to the Restored Church, and that a prophet was the head of the Church today.

So in reality, there was one main question up for discussion: Who was the prophet today? And, working backwards: Who had been the rightful successor to Joseph Smith? I was beginning to see that my Utah Church could not base its claim to authenticity solely on either Joseph Smith or the Book of Mormon. They were obliged to prove that theirs actually was the Church Joseph founded, and that Brigham Young was Joseph Smith’s rightful successor.

In my heart I was certain that all these other prophets were false. A seed of doubt had sprouted during my trip to Nauvoo, however, and before we returned home, I dropped a card into the box at the visitors’ center of the Reorganized Church, asking for more information.

Events were shaping for confrontations that would have serious and long-lasting effects on me and my family.

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