THE MORMON SEXUAL PURITY OBSESSION
A few observers have questioned the notion that my former church could be manipulative or damaging, or emotionally stunting. There is a strong belief that church can do no harm, and only work for the betterment of striving humans. I recognize that for many, the Mormon church system “works”. This system did not work for me. I resent the fact that because it failed, the assumption is that I did something wrong. I look forward to the day when the Mormon church will be forced to take accountability for it’s offensively over-reaching policies. Here is an account of one of my teen age encounters with Mormon authority. This aptly describes the manipulation. I have spoken with several Mormon males who have agreed that they too experienced low self-esteem and anxiety on account of the Mormon policy regarding sexual purity.
But still, there is the persistence that I am making this up, or that the church is perfect but the people in it is not, or that obviously, I am too sensitive to this and just need to “get over it”. If you do not understand how manipulative a church system can be with regards to sexual purity… here is my true to life example. The Mormon church’s obsession with sexual purity warps the mind and self-esteem of many young people who live through it.
What is that sound?
pause…. tap tap, tap tap…. pause….
It grew louder as I practically leaned off the edge of my chair to hear for it. Then it dawned on me. Cripes. When did he start walking with a cane? Luckily, being a man of god will show him restraint and he won’t try to beat me with it. He’d never do that, but maybe I wish he would. Maybe that would be the trick in getting me to finally be “good”.
The hallway was dark. The activity inside the gymnasium around the corner and through the double doors had just begun on this Wednesday night. I would rather be playing basketball tonight than having to sit through this next hour. Heck, I would rather be doing my homework than to sit through this dreadful meeting.
“Well, hello Mike. Glad you could make it. Sorry I am late”, said the man.
“...‘sallright” I mumbled, pretty certain that it wasn’t.
Here we go again. The mental self-chastisement resurfaced… the naggings screamed out at me as I got up out of my chair:
What was wrong with me? Why the repeated trips to this office? Why was I the only one sitting here in this hallway?
No one else had this terrible habit. I hated myself for it. I hated that I would be sitting shamefully with my family again during the sacrament. I hated that I, one of the supposedly noble youth of Zion, had indeed faltered yet again in unworthiness.
I followed him into his office. The room was already hotter than the midday sun during double sessions at football practice. I had thought I would start this school year off strong and in control. I was wrong. Just like the other years. I took the obligatory seat across from him and his four foot by eight foot faux mahogany desk. I sat in this chair every Sunday in our sixteen year old Priest quorum group discussions.
This judge in Israel, uh, my judge in Israel, fumbled through his papers. I knew he pretended to look for something that was not there. I guess this was not his favorite conversation either.
I could tell he already knew. He always knew. It was his job to know. As Christ’s representative for His congregation, it was his responsibility to be in tune with the spirit enough to know these things. God gave him these powers of discernment. So of course he knew!
With that thought I blushed out of anger and self-deprecation.
Dang it, Mike! Stop already! You need the companionship of the holy ghost to guide you!
No good. Vexing oneself never worked. I would just have to sit there blushing, humiliated and ashamed that I had failed to honor my priesthood ... again.
He took off his glasses, and forcefully rubbed the spot we priests jokingly called “The Unibrow”. It was as if the glasses had irritated him profusely. But, I knew why he was irritated. He had to come all the way to the church after a warm meal with his family to talk about my lame problems. Leave his life and address mine. All because I could not seem to control myself. How pathetic was that. What in the heck was wrong with me? I heard the tick tock of the clock on the wall. It was pretty loud in the silence between us.
He drew in a deep breath and he looked at me as he held it momentarily. Suddenly, In a heavy and drawn out exhalation of air out from his lungs he began:
He peered over the top of his glasses,
“Young man, how is your priesthood holding up? Bright and shiny?”.
It was a friendly tone he used but there wasn’t a smile attached to it.
And I wished he would not breathe out like that. He had very offensive breath. How could he not know that his breath was that bad? I had heard his question and I was stunned. Fixating on the smell did not stave off the awkward pause in the room.
I also noted he got right to the point this time. Obviously, I hadn’t heeded well enough his advice in the past. I put out spotty performance in responding valiantly in past visits.
No chit chat this time? No how is your 3.5 grade point average coming along… any new songs on the piano? or even how was football practice today? The man was all star defensive lineman in high school, loves the game, and he can’t even recognize that I am something other than a troubled kid with a jerk off problem. He came at me straight out of the chutes. Ruthless.
“uh… I… uh… I wasn’t… uh… valiant”
I gripped the sides of my chair so hard that a raised rogue staple in the upholstery under the right arm dug into my cuticle. That hurt. The dam broke. Tears welled up. I had told myself I would not cry. Where were the tissues? He always had tissues on his desk in that crocheted white funky tissue box cover of his. He made no move to console me. He never did so I did not expect it. I hated crying. It was just that I was so humiliated. I was so inexplicably frustrated. At least I didn’t sob. I wiped the lower rims of my eyes to dry up any rogue tears that tried to escape down my face. I tried to maintain some form of dignity.
“Mike. You really have got to get past this. You know that this problem disqualifies you in the Lord’s eyes. The spirit of God cannot dwell in unholy temples! Your body is a temple and defiling it in this way displeases God. We have been through the steps of repentance before. Where do you see yourself missing the mark?”
Missing the mark? Geez. I have no clue. I have done everything he had asked and then some. I had prayed my guts out so many times, so many ways. Only to fall to temptation yet once again. What a failure I was.
My shoulders drooped and I looked at the floor as a pungent flash back to three weeks ago entered and left my head.
I reviewed in my head how I had done some high powered serious soul searching. I sought, from the depths of my soul, the cleansing power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. After all, it was the 2nd principle of Christ’s Gospel. I knew that the ancient book of Mormon prophet, Nephi, taught that there is no temptation for mankind placed upon him save the lord prepares a way for us to escape it. That only served to confirm how I knew I was the problem. I also knew I only needed faith the size of a mustard seed and then I could be empowered to overcome as Jesus declared in the New Testament. Isaiah said that my scarlet sins could become white as the driven snow! I craved that. Jesus said we could move mountains with that tiny particle of faith. I was not looking to move a mountain, today, I was looking to climb one.
I had a specific purpose in mind when I climbed Mount Toro. I wanted to follow Nephi’s example and use it to get nearer to god. At least, that was my plan. I figured somehow the physical act could show God I was serious about this desperate pleading I kept offering.
Joseph Smith departed to his grove to seek after God, I would have my mountain.
When I summited, I wasted no time. I had played it out ten times in my head as I hiked over the last two hours. The top of this mountain would be my temple. My secret sanctuary. My altar of sacrifice. A physical symbol to my God that I desired to grow closer to him.
No sooner did I realize that I was suddenly about to address my Heavenly Father with the one item I longed to be banished from my life than my heart spilled over. My heart leaped into my throat as I felt every ounce of genuine sincerity inside of me get called to attention. I was racked with remorse and I fell to my knees with my hands gripping the roots of my hair. I practically doubled over as I shouted my prayer in halted jerking sobs.
“Oh… my… God!” I cried out in pain. “I am so sorry to bring this before you again! I know you healed the blind! Won’t you consider healing my heart?”
Looking back, I believe I shouted so that I would be sure God would have to hear his begging child.
There was no anger in my tones, in fact, much of my noise got carried away on the whipping windy breeze slipping by me in the trees. Nevertheless, my prayer gushed out of me as I begged for a change of heart…. as I implored my maker to fix me. I told him my fears, my secret insecurities, my most inner thoughts. I was willing to do whatever I could to achieve His holy assistance in getting this mess behind me.
God made me, he could fix me. How could he not see I was doing everything and more for this to happen? All that was missing was his providential hand… an augmentation of my sheer willpower and determinism.
Suddenly, I felt physical pain in my heart when I realized that as a sinner, God could cleanse me as decreed in his holy word. All it took was a particle of faith to get that set in motion! But another condition for the cleansing was that I realize significantly the gravity of guilt played out from causing God’s son torturous pain in the garden of Gethsemane. I had to own up to the fact that I placed a burden on the son of God that only He could expiate.
The beginnings of that thought sent me into absolute horror as I contemplated my role. I had been taught that Jesus died for my sins. I was now experiencing the depth and breadth of that concept. I was feeling the torture… maybe this was the cleansing power I sought! I buried my face in my hands and throttled a few tortured screams of agony, the blood pressure risingin my throat. Eventually, there was a calm that quieted my anguished sobs. I reflected on how I felt inside. It was nothing huge, but yet it was huge. I had contemplated my part in the great plan of salvation and had been overcome with unspeakable emotion. But that was how God worked, right? I stood up a moment later from my absolution, firmly resolved in my mind that God had answered my prayer. I looked around. Fists still clenched and determined. I started to hike back down the mountain…..
“Huh?...” I blinked. My eyes were dry, I must not have blinked for awhile.
“Mike, you were far away there for a few seconds…. I was just asking if you could see where maybe you are missing the mark in the repentance process…”
I think he could have gut punched me and I would not have flinched as hard as I did with his question.
I knew I had not missed the mark. My experience on the mountain proved that to me… Yet, obviously I had. What more did god want with me? What more was I supposed to do? I was so confused. I wanted to relate my experience to this man but it seemed sacrilegious to do it. I had my communion with the highest holiest being in the universe… and I had failed Him yet again! How could I possibly explain what happened to me on the mountain when I just admitted to him that I am ground zero again? It would seem, perhaps, as if I enjoyed torturing the Son of God.
That is a sick, sick, vile thought Mike. What is WRONG with you? Do you enjoy it? No I don’t enjoy it dang it. I am just a weird guy with a weird problem.
But was there truth to it? I had my epiphany. And I had just as quickly backslid not even three weeks later. No wonder God wouldn’t change me. Being God, He knew I was just going to mess up again anyways. I did not deserve the cleansing blood of His son in my life. Such changes only come to those with pure intent and sincere repentance.
I walked out of the office, physically ill from my plight. My church authority figure in my life gently emphasized to me that when I sin in the way that I have been, all the former sins thus repented of return to me. I was again forbidden to participate in my priestly duties until I could present clean hands and a clean heart.
Oh. That was not what I needed to hear. But that was what God’s message through his mouthpiece to me was on this late summer’s night…
I drove home with my window open. The night air on my face helped to calm my stomach. I pulled up to the house and sat in my car for a minute. The “lights are on” chime dinged in my ears but I could not hear it… or at least I was so fixated on my problems that the noise’s significance failed to register. I walked up to the back door. I was greeted cheerfully by my mother whom I ignored as I slipped past her, zombie like, towards the stairs leading up to my room. I closed the door. I climbed into bed. I thought the forbidden thoughts of giving up, giving in, ending it all. Forbidden. Doing that would make things even worse for me.
I felt the pangs of a guilty soul, searched my heart for resolve to overcome and be what was required of me… and drifted off to sleep.