Mormon Tabernacle Choir

Image by Tolka Rover via Flickr

From birth we all inherit genes, traits and conditions from our parents.  Probably the most powerful force in my life was the religion of my parents… The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (I grew up at a time when the Church didn’t like us using, or being called by the appellation “Mormon”  Now they use it themselves in their own commercials, so I will too).

Born in Salt Lake City, UT.

Both of my parents born in Salt Lake City UT.

Mom was a believer, a true believer.  Dad was a bit more laid back but he deferred to my Mom in religious matters (actually in most matters), so religion was a powerful presence from the beginning.   Mom and Dad had eight children.  I was the fourth.

Some of my earliest memories are of church.

We went three separate times on Sunday.  During the week there were auxiliary meetings and activities that occupied almost all our free time.  As a child I attended “Primary” on Wednesdays and my older siblings attended “Mutual” on Tuesdays.  Mom would be at Relief Society at least one other day of the week.  It was all-consuming for the entire family in ways that have been modified over the years.  Mom was often in leadership roles in these  child, youth and women groups, so she was involved in additional meetings and events.  Dad was mostly preoccupied making a living to support the family.  But my early memories are good ones.

I liked the songs, the closeness of the community.  Early on I felt the warm fuzzies that my Mom certainly felt when we’d sing about Joseph Smith or the temple.  Church was just what we did and I had no reason to question it.

But the Mormon Church was different back then too.  They’ve since consolidated all the meetings into a mere 3 hours on Sunday, and most of the weekday meetings have been shaved as well.  But more than that, the experience, the practices were different:

  • Women couldn’t pray in Sacrament Meeting (the Mormon equivalent to a “mass”).  They can now, but they aren’t supposed to pray at the end (or beginning I forget which).
  • Women couldn’t go to the temple without a husband.  Now they can.
  • Blacks were not allowed to hold the Priesthood (something required to enter the celestial kingdom) and I never saw one in church. That changed in 1978
  • Leaders taught with certainty that the Book of Mormon was a literal history of the American Indians and that their dark skin was a curse for their ancestors’ ancient disobedience to God’s commandments…but they’d get lighter skin as they became more righteous.  Now they don’t seem to know where the Book of Mormon descendants are and it’s not important to know anymore.  One particularly blatantly racist reference was changed in the Book of Mormon.  Inter-racial marriage was still frowned upon for years even after the 1978 change.
  • Leaders taught with confidence and conviction that science would eventually support Mormon claims.  They made unabashedly bold statements. They funded and supported archeological digs and made fantastical claims. They don’t do that anymore.  Now, it’s only the “spirit” that will prove the church true.
  • Free agency was taught more frequently than obedience.  That’s been reversed.
  • Mormons didn’t see themselves as part of the Christian community and weren’t afraid of the distinctions.  They in fact saw themselves as the ONLY true Christians with no need to align with the greater religious community.  They now take great pains to align themselves with Christianity and are shocked that they are seen as outsiders.
  • Temple ceremonies included pantomiming death penalties for the inductees, a goofy protestant minister who was a minion of Satan, and near-naked touching during ordinance work.
  • Clothing rules were different.  Back then they weren’t so obsessed with color, but you couldn’t wear jeans in the chapel, ever.  And women had to wear a skirt or dress in the chapel. Priesthood holders had to wear ties to perform an ordinance.
  • No coke, no face cards, no oral sex and no birth control…these weren’t official policies but they were certainly unwritten rules.

There were  more differences from the LDS church of today but those are ones that I remember and that had an impact on me and my later decisions.

As for myself, I believed it all.

Yet, another part of me didn’t feel comfortable.  I knew something about me didn’t belong there.  I, of course, was gay.

I’ll write more about that later but for now I’ll just say that I always knew it and it has always been who I am.  I just didn’t always know that “it” had a name.  I just sensed “it” wouldn’t go over so well with the family and the community and so I pushed it WAAAY back never letting it surface or become a consideration for further thought.

I later discovered that I was right to feel that shame and that only a temple  married, straight Mormon could make it to the Celestial Kingdom.  I so wanted to go there.

I learned later (probably in my early teens) that “it” had a name and “it” was only spoken of in hushed, shameful tones.  It was evidence of a selfish, wicked, perverted and weak soul. It was a sin next to murder. It was a verb, something you did and not a noun, something you were.  I rationalized that I didn’t do “it”, therefore I wasn’t.