CHAPTER FIFTEEN
EXCOMMUNICATION

One morning several months after I had come home, I awakened to the sound of Margaretta moaning beside me in the bed. Quickly I snapped on the dressing table light. There it was again – the vacant look. The pain.

After seven years of marriage, Margaretta was carrying our second child. Almost immediately upon her decision to let me come back home, she had conceived this new life. We were elated at the prospect of another child.

But Margaretta was getting terribly morning-sick. With Erin, she had spent several weeks in bed and dropped below 100 pounds. This time it was even worse.

"How ya doin’, kid?" I asked.

She shook her head, then gestured frantically toward the side of the bed. I grabbed the stainless steel bowl and held it to her face. Out of her mouth came dark green bile. She retched and gripped my hand, writhing in pain, gagging. I noticed a faint pink mark radiating from the corner of her mouth where the repeated touch of the acid bile had burned her face.

This scene had played itself out several times already, and I had come to recognize this as the breaking point.

"I’m calling the hospital," I said. She didn’t even attempt to reply.

On the way to the hospital, I felt the warm summer air caress my face as Margaretta leaned against the opposite door. How long could she hold up under the strain of the violent nausea accompanying her pregnancy?

At the hospital, a nurse helped her down the hall while I went to the duty desk. Another nurse, one I knew from previous visits, was already making out the admittance report.

"We’ll get the I. V. going right away, Jim," she said, glancing up from her work. "Gets kind of old, doesn’t it?"

Back outside, I thought of the past few months of Margaretta’s pregnancy. She had been hospitalized several times in order to receive intravenous feeding, since she was acutely dehydrated. She vomited so much her face burned. Margaretta is five feet five, but by the sixth month of pregnancy, at 79 pounds, she looked like a concentration camp victim.

The doctors who attended her were confounded. Most of them believed she was either malingering or experiencing deep depression. Her Mormon doctor (and our close friend) recommended tubal ligation in order to prevent future pregnancy. His prognosis was grave.

Pastor Mike often came by to visit Margaretta. She noticed that when he sat and held her hand the pain and nausea abated, as soon as he left, the illness returned. Rich Laux, a Missouri Synod Lutheran pastor, would also visit. And Dewey Wilmont from the Idaho Falls prayer group often drove up to pray for her. Margaretta received these men with reservations; she was polite but distant. There were no openings.

One day George Eichler, pastor of a local Southern Baptist church, stopped by. George was quiet, almost shy. Even though we did not attend his church, he took a special interest in us.

Now, George took Margaretta’s hand. "Dear," he smiled, "I don’t know where you’ve been. I have not walked in your shoes. But I know one thing – Jesus has walked with you. He knows you. And He loves you right where you are. He loves you as a sick Mormon girl."

Tears filled her eyes.

"I don’t know what God has for you, Margaretta," he continued. "I know you do not grasp His grace at this moment. But I know you feel His presence, even in this illness. You know what I think?"

"What?" she sniffed.

"I think you should begin to praise God in the midst of your illness."

Praise is a concept foreign to a Mormon. Mormons sing hymns, but they do not praise. They pray, but they do not worship. The concept of simply worshipping God – speaking words of adoration and praise to Him – would find no cultural link in Margaretta. But she wanted to please God. And I think she wanted to please George.

So, pathetically, this little 79-pound Mormon girl began softly to sing the only praise words she knew:

Praise God from whom all blessings flow,

Praise Him, all creatures here below,

Praise Him above, ye heavenly host,

Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

Within the Mormon community, a growing awareness of my apostasy continued to bring pressure on our marriage. I was subjected to heavy criticism. One of Margaretta’s nurses told me that the stress I had caused her by leaving the Church – though I had never officially resigned, in order to spare her as much as I could – had doubtless triggered Margaretta’s illness.

Meanwhile, she survived her pregnancy and presented us with a healthy daughter, Jaime. Erin by now was a precocious seven-year-old. Our home life stabilized. But I knew the time was approaching when I would be confronted by the authorities of the Church. As it happened, the confrontation came about unexpectedly.

One afternoon in October 1975 I got a call from George Eichler. He said one of his members, married to a Mormon woman, had called him. The young man’s wife had invited missionaries to teach her husband about the Mormon Church. They were coming that evening and George was invited. Since he was not a specialist in Mormonism, he asked me if I would accompany him to the meeting. I agreed.

When we arrived, the missionaries were already there. Their easel was set up and they were ready to begin. Introductions were made. They said they had heard about me. George and I took our seats and I began praying for wisdom. I did not relish confrontation and I certainly did not want to badger the missionaries. On the other hand, I believed that the spiritual destiny of this family was at stake.

The missionaries seemed disconcerted at having two strangers, a pastor and a former Mormon elder, in the meeting. But they moved forward with poise. Everything they said sounded reasonable. They made no mention of any doctrine offensive to a Christian. The young man seemed to listen with an open mind, nodding and responding to the prepared questions put to him by the missionaries. I was reminded of my own first lesson twelve years earlier. How sincere and naïve I had been!

I listened as long as I could, then scooted to the edge of my chair and cleared my throat. "Excuse me, gentlemen. I’m a little disappointed in the way you are proceeding."

The older of the two men, who had been leading the discussion, glanced at his partner. "Well, Mr. Spencer, what’s the problem?"

"I’m afraid you’re misleading this young man."

"Perhaps you ought to do us the courtesy of allowing us to present our material before you ask questions."

"I understand how you feel. But I want to ask you a question."

"Well, what is it?"

"Why don’t you tell him that you plan to become gods?"
"What!" cried the prospective convert in alarm. "What do you mean?" He looked at the missionaries.

The younger missionary flushed in irritation. "We’ll come to that!"

"That’s the problem," I said evenly. "I know from personal experience that you will not come to it until after this man is baptized into the Mormon Church."

"We have a lot of material to cover, and we cover it in a logical sequence," replied the older man.
"But you don’t mention the plurality of gods anywhere in the six discussions."

"Well…."

"Do you?"

Silence.

"Please," I said, "I think you owe it to us all. Tell us now, do you believe you’ll become a god?

"The Church teaches the law of Eternal Progression."

"Do you believe you’ll become a god?"

The missionary stared at me for ten long seconds, then answered quietly, "Yes, I believe that in God’s economy, I will have the opportunity to progress to be as He is."

"To become a god?"

"Yes. To become a god."

There was no arguing or anger in that meeting, but an uneasy silence fell over the room. The young investigator continued to stare incredulously at the missionaries until they finally put away their material and left.

Later that night I got a call from President Jones. "Jim, I need to talk to you."

"Sure," I replied. "I’ll be right over."

It was an awkward situation, I reflected in the car as I drove over to the beautiful multi-million-dollar stake building where President Jones had his office. I really liked this man and I believe he liked me. He found himself in an uncomfortable position; he didn’t really thrive on conflict. But the two missionaries had called him after their confrontation with Pastor Eichler and me.

In his office, President Jones eyed me steadily. He was kind but determined. Before he could speak I said, "President Jones, I want to make this easy on you. I consider myself an apostate Mormon. There is no chance I am going to change. I can see you have no course of action open but to excommunicate me."

A look of relief crossed his face. "Well, Jim," he said, "that really is how I see things."

"I want you to know," I said, "that I bear the Church no ill will. I differ doctrinally with Mormonism and have left the Church. But I must continue to speak my mind on these matters."

President Jones shuffled some papers on his desk. "I would like you to come to the excommunication proceedings."

I was not sure I wanted to do that. Nor could I think of any good reason for doing so, since there was no possibility of reconciliation. But I wanted to cooperate.

"I suppose I could." I said hesitantly. Then something occurred to me. "I’ll come on one condition."

"What’s that?"

"That I be allowed time to tell why I have left the Church."

"I think that’s reasonable." He paused. "Would your wife come? I mean, she wouldn’t have to participate."

"What possible reason could there be for that?"

"It’s Church policy."

"Oh, I see. Well, I’ll ask her. Is there anything else?"

"No I don’t think so. Thank you for coming."

On the evening of the excommunication, two members of the Stake High Council, one of whom was our family doctor, came to our house beforehand to give me one last opportunity to reconsider.

Then Margaretta and I drove to the meeting, which was held at the stake building. She had agreed reluctantly to come, though I hated to subject her to further pressure or humiliation. I had no idea what was going through her mind.

In the sparsely furnished High Council Chamber, my friend Bishop Addison sat by to protect my rights and serve as my personal representative during the proceedings.

President Jones addressed the gravity of the charges against me, then told the High Council that he would permit me to speak to them about my reasons for leaving the Church.

Turning to me he asked, "Jim, will this take more than a couple of minutes?"

"Yes, President," I answered. "I think it will take about an hour."

I could tell by the faces in the room that they did not want to listen to me for an hour.

President Jones cleared his throat. "Well, this is an important meeting. I suppose we should give you as much time as you need."

As I looked around the room at the twelve high priests, the stake president and his two counselors, the stake secretary, Bishop Addison and my wife, it suddenly dawned on me why God had ordained this meeting. Possibly never again would I have the chance to speak to so many powerful Mormons about the good things God had done for me.

That night I preached perhaps the only Bible sermon some of those men would ever hear, I spoke of the sovereignty of God. "There is no other like Him," I said. "And brethren, I lovingly say to you, you will not become gods."

I spoke of the grace of God in saving me. Of the hopelessness I had felt. And of the cleansing and redeeming blood of Jesus Christ.

I defended the Word of God. "The Bible," I said, "is our only sure guide of faith and doctrine. It is Spirit-breathed and Spirit-preserved."

And I spoke of the fire in hell which Mormon doctrine had tried to and failed to extinguish.

Behind my pleading words was a breaking heart. I loved these men from the depths of my being.

I spoke for an hour, reading entire chapters of the Bible from Galatians and Ephesians.

Finally I stopped.

Silence reigned.

And in the silence, exhaustion swept through me – a sinking weariness as I looked into the hardness of their faces, born not of maliciousness but from years of relentless indoctrination. These men had been steeped since childhood in doctrines born in hell. They had been carefully taught.

My heart broke at the raging emptiness in the hearts of people attempting to find life in the lifeless rags of religion. There was no room in me to judge these men, only room for tears of compassion.

After a moment President Jones spoke. "Well, Jim, we certainly see your sincerity. We feel, however, that you are sincerely wrong."

Then, still addressing me: "Martin Luther was asked if he would recant. I will ask you the same question. Will you recant?"

Embarrassed by the comparison to Luther, I was slow to answer.

"Brothers," I said, "I would never compare myself to Martin Luther. However the same God who redeemed Martin Luther redeemed me. That’s the only comparison. Nevertheless, I will answer as Martin Luther did: I cannot."

I was then asked to leave the room, along with my wife and Bishop Addison. I cannot imagine what the Council talked about, but it took an hour for them to decide that I was indeed apostate.

While we waited, Bishop Addison said something that struck me as ironic. He told me defensively that he thought he was as good a Christian as I was. I marveled that he could be party to my excommunication, and at the same time use my level of Christian commitment as a standard by which to measure his own.

After the three of us were invited back into the High Council Chamber, my final act in the Mormon Church was to walk around the room, shake the hand of each of the high priests, look each one in the eye and, from the depths of my heart, tell him I loved him.

Outside, Margaretta was uncharacteristically pensive. "What do you think about what happened in there?" I asked her as we walked to the car.

"I have mixed emotions," she replied slowly. "Since you’ve become a Christian, Jim, I’ve got to admit you’ve been a better husband and father." She hesitated. "And I’m not sure why those men have the right to sit in judgment of you. I’m not sure you’ve even done wrong. I guess I’m kind of confused."

As we drove home in silence, the chill wind of fall swirled leaves across the road. As they danced in the headlights, I realized that nearly two years had passed since my conversion. I wondered how many winters would pass before God would melt Margaretta’s heart.

chapter fourteen||chapter sixteen