The following Mormon memory did more to enlighten, confuse, astound, and scare me in one afternoon than most others. After years digesting that it was only, but wonderfully human and completely laughable, I have decided to record it.
Every young Mormon boy was expected, at age 19, to fulfill a mission for his Church. If he was assigned to an English speaking country, it would be for 2 years. If a foreign language country, 2 1/2 years since the first few months would be spent in a language training center. Before every boy COULD go, however, he must be found worthy to be elevated from his current teenage position in the “Aaronic”, or in other words, little boy Priesthood.
For male’s only, one’s Priesthood callings in life begin at age 12 as a “Deacon”. The Deacons sole responsibility was to pass the trays of “sacrament offerings” each Sunday to the congregation row by row.
If found worthy, at 14 one would advance to the Priesthood level of “Teacher”. Now, you could still pass bread/water trays around, but you would become a home “teacher”. Hah. Simply put, one was assigned to do “Home Teaching” monthly with an adult Priesthood holder. Once visits 3-4 families one night a month, listen to the older guy teach a lesson, have a prayer, eat a cookie, and leave.
At age 16, as you neared completion of High School, and were beginning to feel the weight of approaching adulthood (in your mind) along with the fear and absolutely magnetic pull of the freedom of leaving home, one was lifted one more level up, and became a “Priest”. Wow. Now one could pass the offerings, “do home teaching” & eat a cookie, plus NOW you would “bless the sacrament offerings”. Then with condescending eyes, you handed out those bread / water trays to the “little” deacon boys for them for distribution to the congregation. Isn’t it ALL just romantic as hell?
**Mark Age 16**
Now, you’re about 17 and have begun college! In the 60′s! An entire world is opening up in your consciousness. Well it probably was, unless, that is, you went to BYU in 1964. Yes, Brigham Young University, or as many now call it, “Bringem Young”, the Lord’s University, where nothing impure enters. Where snitching is encouraged if you even hear about immoral behavior on any level. If you catch your roommate with a dirty magazine, perhaps you should tell his Bishop. Luckily in 1964, they weren’t snitching on homosexuals yet. I wasn’t aware of what a homosexual was let alone that I was one. I became occasionally aware of stange kind of surreal dream-like fantasy short movies playing in my mind. Whatever was playing in these movies was still not something remotely discussed in public. You had not yet even heard the word the fantasy subject screamed silently until another event interceded………..
If one went to BYU, instead of learning fantastic unbelievable things about the world you lived in, your childhood blinders were kept in place. You were taught little about life outside of Utah. You obediently continued attending church meetings, devotionals, other church events. Some college classes actually began with a prayer led by some returned missionary student. Professors we’re often simply older versions of these missionaries………..pasty white, innocent, maybe pure. Some were simply robots of their church vision. Some of these professors we’ren’t called professor. They were called “Bishop Tolman” or “Sister Smith”. Sure, you had a good enough time, but was certainly not near or living with a “cool” crowd. You were place in dormitories named after great Book of Mormon mythical heroes or prophets: Helaman Halls.. You were clueless about the world, about social behaviors, and unable to “discourse” with the other “hall” boys in their evening fake brags or wishes about campus girls.
So, it comes to Missionary Time! Because your 19th birthday is approaching, you are kept home in fall of 1965 and you’ll be getting your mission “call” soon. Even though YOU have NEVER come close to being “blessed” with a spiritual knock on the head, i.e., a “testimony” of the “Gospel”, er, Mormonism, there’s NO question whether you will go or not. EVERY kid in small western towns THEN, DID go. In my case, I was the youngest of 4 boys…and 3 had gone already….. Here we were with Dad on the left. ALL had completed missions except me. We were gathered at the funeral of my sister who sadly died of Lymphoma at age 33:
Don’t we all look like Mormon Missionaries?
Here we were just a few years younger at home. We still look like upcoming missionary material:
To get Pre-Missionary Mormon looks in OUR family you gotta go to the young boy stage Kodak pictured here going after the daily milk at Mr Nielson’s:
But back my own story: that late-teen early-adult phase of figuring life out…..inside my little Mormon Worlds:
In the once monthly “Fast and Testimony” Meetings I had rarely but occasionally gotten up on my feet as others always did and told the meeting goers that I, too, “had a testimony to the truthfulness of the Church, that I knew Joseph Smith was a prophet” etc. Somehow I hoped maybe saying it would bring the spirit into my soul. I WANTED to be certain and sure like all the others seemed to. I wanted to belong. It was not thinkable to me to “shame” my parents in that tiny farm town by telling the truth, that I felt nothing. No, I didn’t do that, so I prepared myself to go on my mission.
Clothes were purchased, two suits, white shirts, shoes, all the required items the Church sent in their list of “things to bring”. Maybe I was growing up. I received my “calling”. I would be going to two years to, where? Switzerland? Austria? Brazil? Hawaii? NO. I would be going to Tennesse, Kentucky & West Virginia. What? Are you kidding me? Oh well, I was humble, er, insecure, and of course one wouldn’t question where “the Lord called you to go.” That God must have a “purpose” in sending me there, right? There must be hillbillies and others waiting for me knock on their door. Anyways once I had the call, date of departure, the “Farewell Testimonial” was set at our local Church:
Goodbyes were pretty much done, a week in the mission home was set in Salt Lake City for training. BUT. There was one more VERY important event must occur before I could depart for the East Central States Mission Home in Louisville, Kentucky.
I would have to pass a Moral Worthiness Interview not by my local Bishop, but by an area officer, a Stake President so I could be advanced to the first Adult Level of Priesthood, an “Elder”. The highlight of that promotion would be going through the Salt Lake Temple at the conclusion of the Missionary Training Week just prior for departure on a 3-day tortuous train ride cross-country.
(Note: When your mission training is completed, every missionary enters the sacred Temple in Salt Lake City, and takes out his own “endowments”, that promise loyalty to the Church, one learns big “secrets” about Earth’s original parents, Adam & Eve, you don your Magic Mormon Underwear for the first time, you make secret “handshakes” with temple “workers” on opposite sides of ceiling to floor hanging drapes that divide temple rooms. It is quite the token rituals performed herein. I have never forgotten at one point the swearing of an oath that “I would rather my throat be slit from ear to ear rather than reveal these truths to the outside world.”…. By the time you’re outta this temple session, you’re not smiling. You’re scared to death and completely saying, What have I gotten myself into?” **The blood-letting oath required in 1965, was removed from the ordinances I think in the 90′s. Perhaps the temple ordinances weren’t then completely 100% God’s words then were they? After all, I was always taught that these secret rituals were what God revealed to Joseph Smith about what was conducted in the “ancient” Jewish Temples before Jesus had been thought of…..so one would think the oaths and rituals would stay the same forever. But then you must know that Mormonism has been in the process of being re-written and re-forming and re-arranging since it began in 1830.
Since getting THROUGH this Temple Rite was THAT important, I had to schedule my Morality Interview with my “Stake President”. Here’s our area “High Council” with President D. Erickson seated in the middle, a man I liked very much, probably because he liked me and my being the Stake Organist since I was about 12………………..
The interview was set, Sunday Afternoon, in Nyssa at the Stake Center. I would return home in time for evening Sacrament Meeting in Vale. President E greeted me warmly, we got right down to business. A few forgettable questions were asked about tithing, belief, etc., and then the FIRST sex question came up. THIS one, and ONLY this one had I expected and so had rehearsed an answer for. I was SO frightened that he would detect my rehearsed answer, knew I’d told a lie, and deny me my temple reccomend. Then I would be an embarrassment to my parents, and every Mormon in Vale. WHAT WAS that question I somehow KNEW would be asked? Somehow, I KNEW he’d be asking about that “urge” every teenager has, you know, I believe I don’t have to mention what it is……………..do I?
President E,”So, Mark, have you ever masturbated?”
Mark, “Well, I did once, but I repented and haven’t done it since.”
President E, “Okay, so have you ever had Sexual Relations with Women?”
Mark, beginning to blush, wondering why a man I thought “inspired” to know the only temptation “I” could have had up to then would be fighting that “urge”, would then ask that. My brain speed ratcheted up….churning out, my God, what made him think “I” of all people would be having sex with women, and why would I be here wanting to go on a mission IF I HAD been doing that? I had NO idea he was simply parroting the required questions from his “stake president manual” that every S.P. had. Just following formula. I managed a response, “Well, NO, President, no, I of course I haven’t.”
President E then asked a question my MIND had toyed with, but did NOT know existed, “So, have you EVER had Sexual Relations with Men?”
Mark, “WHAT? NO! What? With Men? No……………… uh, NO, uh, WHY are you asking me that?????” ALL the time, my MIND was now going 1000 miles an hour picturing images that had only passed through late at night, alone, in the dark, dreamlike…..my mind asking me and distracting me, “What? They DO that? Men can do that?”….I was asking myself that at least realizing now, the interview was over. Or was it?
President E, “Okay, then, (AND HERE IT GOES) how about ANIMALS?”
Marks mind sort of imploded. “WHAT? What? WHAT are you TALKING ABOUT? Again, really, What are you asking me? WHY would you ask me that?”
****Little did I know that this was not the most shocking question I would be asked that very day****
President E chuckled, and says, “It’s okay, I think I have my answer.”
The interview was over. The WONDER of that interview wasn’t, and the best part of it was yet to come. I drove home all the while with a disturbed mind NOW newly aware of SOMETHING in this world that had caused me loneliness, something I thought UNreal, but was apparently, REAL to someone SOMEWHERE…………………………… And then, the ANIMALS thing? REALLY! WHAT WAS he asking me THAT for? My MIND was SO clouded I DID worry about my driving attention.
I got home, we went to Church, and immediately, same-age pal Mike Marble sat down by me. After high school, Mike had been living a bit of a wild cowboy’s life. He grew up on a dairy farm, had gotten into drinking and smoking, but was thinking of “repenting” and going on a mission like me. He aggressively asked, “What’d he ask ya? What’d he ask ya?”
I replied, “You won’t BELIEVE what he asked me, but as I glanced around the congregation being seated to quiet organ music, and looking so stern in their faces, I whispered, “This is serious, I can’t tell you HERE in Church, meet me after Church out in back……………….” He sighed, and the evening meeting began. It was a long meeting.
So, after Church there we were, in the dark, away from everyone, and he’s pressing, “What’d he ask ya?”
I began……….I repeated the questions……………….. and then I got to “Ever have sex with men?”
Mike crinkled up his face, and I could tell he didn’t know much more about that than I. He says, “Ooooeeaaahhhhhh!”
I said, “that ain’t it man, you won’t believe it, then he asked me if I’d sex with Animals, can you believe that?”
Mike was silent for a minute, then as calmly as a quiet summer summer sunset, said, “Well? What did you tell him?”
THERE it was! For the Second time this sabbath day, my mind exploded at my tender 19 years. “What do you MEAN what did I tell him?” WHAT ARE you talking about?
Mike says, “Haven’t you?”
I say, the question NOT sinking in, “Haven’t I what?”
Mike says, “Had sex with cows?”
I say, “NO, and what do you mean? YOU have?”
Mike says, “Oh yeah, lots……….when I’m milking the cows and they’re tied up in the stanchions, I……………………. And then there was one time……………………… etc etc etc etc etc etc etc etc etc”
I was aghast……………………………..and spent many nights after that realizing how little I knew about the world. So now, for that 3-4 times in my mission where the blurry world of SEX was hinted at by married men thinking they could seduce someone, but me being completely unaware of their goal, I remained in the dark about this part of my being until the mission was over, and I had returned to God’s School, BYU. I thought I was safe there.
It was just a few years later how I learned that this kind of teenage sex experience was not at all rare in rural areas. It would ONLY be in those areas this question would be asked by a Stake President or Bishop.
In retrospect at 61:
So what became of those 4 Huffaker boys who faithfully tried to live the doctrine at least until completion of their Mormon missions? Three have successfully rejected the Mormon claim to absolute divine appointed authority and power, and hence, have given up a proffered “divine” right to Kingdoms, Planets, Wives, Children, without end. We’ve also given up on answering moral worthiness questions from those appointed to power who might ask us piercing questions taken straight from Church Published Management Manuals from this dogmatic organization. So. What does that mean to me?
My “failing” to grasp these doctrinal claims as that young boy ensconced inside that patriarchal American created religion, and finally letting go, IS what allowed me to feel “born again”. I do NOT think I would know or feel the powerful beauty of nature and this world had I stayed inside of it.
Too bad President Erickson isn’t still alive and able to ask me those same questions. I’d have lots to say this time, and do it joyfully. Wow. I somehow feel all cleansed, and can now return to the kind of beauty in this universe I, much like Walt Whitman, can truly love. Even in this simple non-descript picture, I find more beauty and freedom than in all the years of human created philosophy:
Oh well. Hope this LONG read wasn’t boring. I suppose it’s mostly boring, but it’s part of what shaped me as an adult.
**IF anyone seriously wants to sit and READ long scripts, here is the link to the 1931 Temple Endowment Ceremony Script that was used for me. From that page, you can link to all the versions, as well as other Mormon/Non-Mormon sites. It was updated in 1984 to soften some of the words, and then in 1990, all references to penalty of death were removed. The reasons for removal will be completely different depending on whether you ask a believing Mormon, or an ex-Mormon.
**When one completes his endowments, one is “presented” as a “finished” spiritual puritan into the final room, the “Celestial” Room that represents the highest kingdom of heaven. It would look, in any temple, much like this one in Salt Lake: