CHAPTER THIRTEEN
A REPRIEVE

Realistically, there was only one course of action open to Margaretta. From childhood she had been prepared to marry in the temple. The Church teaches its children to perpetuate the Mormon family. Little boys grow up singing "I Hope They Call Me on a Mission." And little girls are tucked in with stories about being married in the temple.

For the Mormon, family life actually starts in heaven. The Church teaches that we were not created at birth, but that we were "spirit children of Heavenly Father and Mother." We are the spirit brothers and sisters of Jesus and, for that matter, Satan! (1)

The best of the spirit children are born to parents who have been "sealed" in the temple. If you are not sealed to your family in this life, you will not be with them in heaven. Since I had left the Church, I could not, of course, go to the Celestial Kingdom. Margaretta was forced, therefore, to choose between her husband and heaven. Who, I asked myself, could take that kind of pressure?

Mormon society puts young women under all kinds of pressure. In Utah, for example, girls marry as teenagers twice as frequently as in the nation as a whole. (2) And the Mormon birth rate is twice the national average. (3) Women are encouraged to marry young and create bodies for spirit children. Interestingly, more than half the teenagers who marry in Utah are pregnant out-of-wedlock! (4)

So I knew, as torn as I felt inside, that Margaretta must feel equally torn, and even abandoned. She had been spoon-fed since birth the idea that all but Mormonism was corrupt. One of the original twelve Mormon apostles, Orson Pratt, had put it this way:

All other churches are entirely destitute of all authority from God…. Both Catholics and Protestants are nothing less than the ‘whore of Babylon.’ … Any person to be so wicked as to receive a holy ordinance from the ministers of any of these apostate churches will be sent down to hell with them unless they repent…. (5)

The Church makes no apologies for its narrow view. Joseph Smith said that God told him that all the churches of that day "were wrong, all their creeds were abominations and all their members were corrupt." (6)

Margaretta, as a faithful Mormon, believed the Church to be the only representative of God on earth. And now she found herself married to a man who had been misled by the devil. It was no wonder she had told me, through tears of frustration, "I hate the people who have done this to you!"

For myself, I had just about given up on the future of our marriage. The last time I had called Margaretta, she had given me no shred of hope.

Nevertheless, one day at work I decided to call her one more time. I was surprised by what she said. We could talk! Would I be willing to meet with her and the stake president to see if there were any way to avoid a divorce?

Of course, I agreed to the meeting. I knew I could not compromise my decision for Christ, but short of that I was willing to agree to any reasonable request. I wondered if it would be possible to find a way through this thicket of division.

President Jones met us at the door, shook my hand warmly and ushered us into his office. He waved me into a folding chair, seated Margaretta next to me, and took his place behind his desk. I had known President Jones for some years, and done business with him and was very fond of him. He was a small man who moved with quick, nervous motions.

Clearing his throat, he straightened his shoulders within his dark brown suit jacket. "Well, Brother Spencer, I’m glad you were willing to meet with me."

"I’m very glad for the chance to talk to you."

"I want you to know, Jim, that I am not in favor of you and Margaretta getting a divorce."

That statement surprised me, since in the conversations I had had with Margaretta, I had gotten the impression that no one thought she should continue to live with me if I left the Church.

"I’m sure glad to hear that, President. I don’t want a divorce!"

He nodded and adjusted his wire-rimmed glasses. "Of course, Jim, as you know, you have presented Margaretta with an impossible situation. You know that her reputation in the community has suffered greatly from what you have done, not to say the fact that you are endangering her spiritual future."

I ignored the last part of his remark. "I really don’t want to disgrace her in the community, President."

"I’m sure you don’t. Tell me, Brother Spencer" – reverting to the more formal form of address – "what really is the problem you are having with the Church?"

"Basically my problems are doctrinal. I have come to believe, after much soul-searching, that the Church is in error in several important positions."

"Are you sure that’s all that’s bothering you? Has someone offended you in some way?"

"Absolutely not. I love the people in Fourth Ward. My problem is that I have lost confidence in the Church. I can’t accept some of the things the Church teaches. For example, plurality of gods."

"What about Joseph Smith? Do you think he was a prophet? What about the Book of Mormon?"
"President, I’m not sure what I believe there. But even if the Book of Mormon is true and even if Joseph Smith was a prophet, that doesn’t mean the Church today is sound."

President Jones looked troubled. "What about plurality of gods? What’s your problem? The prophets have told us, ‘As man is, God once was; and as God is, man may become.’"

"I know what the prophets have said. I just don’t agree with them."

"What do you believe?"

"I believe there is only one God. I believe what the Bible says – that in the universe there is only one God."

President Jones laughed. "How can you believe that? Joseph Smith saw two personages in Palmyra grove – two separate, distinct personages!"

"Maybe."

"All right. If you discount the word of the prophet, what about the Bible? You believe in the Bible, don’t you?"

"I most certainly do. I believe in the God of the Bible and I believe that Jesus is God, the God who came in the flesh."

"So you think Jesus is God?"

"Yes, I do."

"What about God the Father?"

"The Bible says that Jesus and the Father are one. Jesus said in John 14:9, ‘He who has seen me has seen the Father.’"

"Of course that means the Father and the Son are one in purpose," responded President Jones. "You don’t actually think they are the same Being do you?"

"Yes, I do."

"Then how do you account for the fact that Jesus, when He was in the Garden of Gethsemane, prayed to the Father? Or the fact at the baptism of Jesus, the Spirit descended as a dove and the Father said from heaven, ‘this is my beloved Son’?"

"I’m not sure I fully understand. But even if I don’t, I believe the Bible. And the Bible tells me there is only one God. Here, let me read you a couple of verses."

President Jones looked irritated. He was supposed to be the spiritual authority here. "Well –" he began.

"No, let me finish, President. Here it is, Isaiah 44:6. God says, ‘I am the first and I am the last; beside me there is no god.’"

"Well, we believe there is only one God for this world."

"I know what the Church teaches, but that isn’t what God says in the Bible. Listen to Isaiah 44:8: ‘You are my witnesses! Is there a God besides me? There is no Rock; I know not any.’ See, God says He doesn’t know of any other god. Don’t you think if there were other gods in the universe He would know about them?"

President Jones was beginning to scowl.

"Here’s another verse, Isaiah 45:5. ‘I am the Lord, and there is no other, beside me there is no other God; I gird you… that men may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is none beside me; I am the Lord, and there is no other.’"

"I think that’s enough verses, Jim."

"The point I’m trying to make, President, is that the idea of plurality of gods, as taught by the Church, does not line up with the Bible. Now, I can’t explain the Trinity, President Jones. I believe there is only One God because the Bible says that’s all there is. Yet somehow, within the nature of that one God, are three Persons. That’s the doctrine of the Trinity – one God, three Persons."

"I don’t know how God can be both three and One, but I know that’s the clear teaching of the complete witness of the Old and New Testaments. God is one, but He continually displays three eternal Persons to us – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Even the Book of Mormon teaches that the Father and the Son are the same being."

"Nonsense!"

"No, it’s true. Mosiah chapter seven, verse 27 says that Christ is God, the Father of all things, and that He came down and took upon Himself the image of a man!"

"Well –"

"And Mosiah 16:15 says that Christ is ‘the very Eternal Father.’ So does Alma 11:38. And Third Nephi 11:36 says the Father and the Son, along with the Holy Ghost, are one. And the Doctrine and Covenants –" (7)

"O.K., Jim, that’s enough!"

"President, I don’t understand all these things, but this much I do know. There’s a vast difference between what the Bible says about God and the Church’s concept that every faithful male member can become a God! Even if there were three gods – Father, Son, and Holy Ghost – there are not millions of gods, and you and I are not going to be gods!"
"And the idea of God having once been a man who grew into godhood is nowhere in the Bible. As a matter of fact, it isn’t even in the Book of Mormon. I wrote down this verse, Mormon 9:9-10: ‘For do we not read that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and in him there is no variableness, neither shadow of changing, then ye imagined up unto yourselves a god who doth vary, and in whom there is no shadow of changing, then ye imagined up unto yourselves a god who is not a god of miracles.’ President, a god who grew from manhood into Godhood is a god who has changed. He is neither the God of the Bible nor the Book of Mormon. Furthermore –"

"I said that’s enough, Jim." President Jones looked down at his hands, folded tightly in front of him. "I don’t know how to respond to you, Jim." Then looking me in the eye: "As a matter of fact, I’m not really a Bible scholar. But I have a testimony of the gospel. I know that Joseph Smith was a prophet; that this is the True Church; and that we have a living prophet at the head of the Church today!" He was as close to being angry as I had ever seen him.

"But beyond that, Jim," he continued more calmly, "what are we going to do about your marriage? Your wife must be married to a Mormon elder in order to go to the Celestial Kingdom. She told me that all her life she had hoped to be married in the temple. You took her to the temple, Jim! Now what are you going to do? Abandon her?"

Margaretta had been silent all along. I looked at her now. She was staring at the president. I thought she looked disappointed, and particularly so when he had confessed that he was not a Bible student. I wondered what was going through her mind. Then I looked back at President Jones. "The fact is, President, she is my wife."

"Yes. And I for one, do not want to see your marriage end. But you are going to have to cooperate, or I’m not going to be able to help you. Do you understand?"

"Yes, sir, I do. But you need to understand that I have struggled with this a long time. I am not moving capriciously. There are compromises I cannot make."

"I’m willing to respect that, Jim. I think we need to come up with a compromise that will be a step toward bringing your marriage together. I have a suggestion. Why don’t you take the missionary lessons?"

I smiled wearily. "President, I have given the missionary lessons. I know what they are. I just don’t believe them."

"Yes, well…. Look Jim, we need to find some common ground here. What would you say to reading the Book of Mormon?"

"I guess I could do that. But a compromise should give a little on both sides. If we’re going to try to think things through, shouldn’t Margaretta be involved in some way?"

"I think that’s fair. Maybe Margaretta can read –" He paused, groping. "Maybe she can read the Bible."

"Well, President, I don’t see how that’s fair. She’s already supposed to believe in the Bible. I tell you what. I’ll read the Book of Mormon again if you will tell her to read some books that I’ll give her."

"No! No, I – uh – I don’t think that would be right." He closed his eyes and paused reflectively. "How about this? How about if you both traded off going to church together?"

"What do you mean?" I asked slowly.

"Well, you go to church with her at Fourth Ward one Sunday, and let her go to church with you, wherever you go, the next Sunday!"

Nothing he could have said would have surprised me more. I couldn’t believe my ears. Before he had time to reconsider I said, "Well O.K. I think that would be all right." Turning to Margaretta, I could see fire in her eyes. "What do you think, honey?"

Margaretta glared at me. Then she looked icily at President Jones. "Are you sure that’s the right thing to do?"

"Well, now, dear, I understand that we’re asking a lot of you. But I have complete confidence in your faithfulness and I think we need to give Jim a little more room. I’m confident that eventually he’s going to realize how serious a step he’s taking."

"I certainly hope so! I can guarantee you one thing. I’m not about to leave the Church. I’m not about to become a – a Presbyterian!"

President Jones rose to his feet. The interview was over, an unpleasant job well done. He smiled again and walked us to the door. "I just know things will work out. Get back with me in a few weeks and let me know what’s happening."
We found ourselves outside the building, standing in nervous silence. Was I to go home with her or return to my bachelor quarters? Finally Margaretta sighed and started walking to the car. "Come on," she called over her shoulder.

I felt great. I didn’t really know why, but I was actually going home! It was no time to ask questions.

 

  1. Mormon theology gets a little messy here, for although Mormonism teaches that humans were born as "spirit children," the Church teaches just as clearly that we are "co-eternal" with God. Joseph Smith said we existed from the beginning with God.
  2. Ogden Standard-Examiner, December 15, 1979.
  3. Statistical Abstract of the United States, 1981-82, p. 60.
  4. Ogden Standard-Examiner, December 15, 1979.
  5. Seer, Orson Pratt, p. 225.
  6. Pearl of Great Price, Joseph Smith, 2:18-19.
  7. See also Book of Mormon: Alma 11:26-32; III Nephi 11:27; Mormon 9:12; Ether 3:14; and Doctrine and Covenants, Section 20.28.
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