Why the Mormon Church Scares Me

When I was twelve or so, the Mormon church celebrated the 200th anniversary of the day Joseph Smith had the experience they call The First Vision in which, after praying in a forest, he was said to have seen God and been given the instruction that would eventually bring forth the creation of the Mormon church.  This anniversary was celebrated by collecting literally thousands of youth in a gigantic stadium for performances of songs and dances and scripture-reading, and was dubbed The Day of Celebration. I grew up in Utah, and therefore during most my childhood I was a devout member of the Mormon church.  So, naturally, I and the other kids in my neighborhood were given the opportunity to be in this production.

We were supposed to be a part of the choir.  After a few weeks of practice at the local church, they started holding large-scale practices at the conference center in the middle of Salt Lake City.  That's about when my story begins to diverge from others'.  

They had us sing a few songs, but one in particular will forever be seared into my memory.  Where the others were about the church and its teachings, this one talked about things I'd never heard of.  It was called “Bring Him Forth.”

When we sang it, there was a heavy drum beat in the background, like a reverberating heartbeat as the song progressed.  I don't remember all the words, but it was comprised of two verses.  The first talked about how far the church had come and how they were doing the work of Him. The second verse is the one I remember word for word, because singing it always tied knots in my stomach.  

The First was the vision

The Second was the death

The Third was at Mountain Meadows

Where blood was spilt with every breath

The Fourth was in Nauvoo,

when the temple was rebuilt

The Fifth will be this gathering 

Where below the blood was spilled

The Sixth will be the temples

As we spread across the land

And the Seventh will open the lock

To the end of man.

I remember talking about it with my friends, but only one of them would even acknowledge that the song was a little strange, and that was only in passing.  The others chided me for questioning the teachings of the church and said that the songs were sacred and not to be discussed.

This reaction resonated within me.  It was the same measured response that was given when I asked about what happens in the temples during weddings and baptisms for the dead and so on.  I hadn't yet been to the temple, but not having any of my questions answered unnerved me.  People just dodged those types of questions, claiming them to be too sacred to discuss outside the walls of the temple.

I looked up the Mountain Meadows that was mentioned in the song, and was surprised to find a story about the church I'd never heard of.  Essentially what happened was a band of Mormon men ambushed a tribe of native Americans in southern Utah back in the 1800s.  It was since named The Mountain Meadows Massacre.  What struck me as odd though was how much cover-up it seemed went behind that particular point in history.  It's never mentioned by the church, and whenever I brought it up in church, it was shrugged off.  Either people didn’t know about it, or didn’t care to talk about it.  There was even a statement about it in the church saying that they had nothing to do with it and that Brigham Young, the prophet at the time, had ordered against the attack.  Journal entries and eyewitness accounts told a different story – one in which the order was given and carried out in secret.

So, the day came and I and my friends all wore the mandatory uniforms for the choir.  They had us sing our set of songs, and I was beginning to wonder if they'd changed their minds about the “Bring Him Forth” song because it wasn't even on the program.  It was almost over, when an old man whom I'd never seen before and whom was not given any sort of introduction stepped out into the stadium.  A hush washed over us as he took the microphone and stood in the center of the stadium and addressed the pin-drop silent crowd of youth.

He said that we were going to now perform the special numbers that had been practiced, and because of the sacredness of what was about to happen, that portion would not be filmed or recorded in any way.

We, the choir, started with our number, then as we came to the second bar, most of the lights went out and the dancers entered the stadium in the glow of candle light that was brought out by a procession of children. I remember seeing an unusual mixture of pride and trepidation on the faces of the dancers as they prepared to perform their own unusual number.

They danced to our song, if that's really what it was they were doing, with a series of strange jerking movements.  Several of the younger children even fell to the ground and started convulsing.  I suppose it was a part of the act because nobody came to their aid, but I remember the panic I felt watching them as I sang with the rest of the choir.

When the number was over, a prayer was offered and we all went home

Nobody spoke about that night.  I tried to bring it up later, but either nobody remembers or nobody is willing to talk about what happened in that stadium.  I did my best to forget about it as well.

I only bring this up now, over ten years later, because I feel compelled to do so.  I never spoke again about that song and dance number, but recent news has sparked it in my mind.

I went back to my old neighborhood a few weeks ago to get in touch with a few of my friends and particularly an old scout leader to whom I owe a lot for getting me through a particularly bad part of my childhood.

When I tried to look him up, I found that a good portion of the neighbors had moved.  There were still several old timers around, but most of the families I went to church with were gone.  I got in touch with one of those older neighbors to ask about where he and his family had gone, and she told me he'd moved to another county after getting a job at the temple as a security guard.

Intrigued and slightly wary, I dug deeper.  I made some phone calls and found that my old scout leader had been bounced around from church position to church position working as security, maintenance, custodial, and so on. Eventually, he'd been transferred around so many times that he got lost in the system and the trail went cold.

Nobody knew what happened to him.

I tracked him down through state records to a city in northern Utah, but none of the church records matched what was reported by the city.  He and his family were there, but they weren’t the same people I knew when I was growing up.  He had ranked up in the church and was now a regional leader they call a Stake President that was in charge of overseeing multiple wards in the community. 

The really strange part was their son – Michael.  He was five or so years younger than me and would be about 20 now.  That’s the age when young men in the church generally devote two years of their lives to serving a mission abroad to spread the word of God.  When I asked about him, the look on their faces turned my stomach.  They looked completely confused.  They said they’d never heard of Michael and that their only son was Jacob, who was sixteen and was looking forward to going on a mission in a few years.

I went on to look at a few of my other neighbors, and out of ten families, three of them had been lost in the system just as my old scout leader had been, and four of them had been completely wiped clean from any record - they no longer existed.  

I've asked around about them, but of the people that are still around, none of them seem to remember those families.

I don’t think I was supposed to remember that song from The Day of Celebration, or the families I grew up with, but I remember them with such clarity that I can’t believe for a moment that these are just figments of my imagination.  The last two lines in that song still echo in my head, even as I write this.

The Sixth will be the temples as we spread across the land

And the Seventh will open the lock to begin the end of man.

There are more Mormon temples in the world now than ever before, and every year they announce the groundbreaking of new ones.  I believe that’s the fulfillment of The Sixth that the song mentions.  Now people are missing and I think that means we're coming up on whatever The Seventh is...  I wonder how much more is going on behind the scenes - and what it will mean for the world when they're done.


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