There were many wonderful things about growing up among the devout. Family is valued highly and I enjoyed the privileges of a very stable home life and close relationships with not only my parents and brothers but with my many aunts, uncles, and cousins. There was the comfort of knowing that if I did everything right, there would be rewards in the afterlife. When loved ones passed away, we all knew we would be quite literally seeing each other again. Even those who never joined the church could be baptized by a surrogate to ensure your family could remain together in eternity. In fact, I was baptized for my namesake grandfather after he passed away.
However, as I grew up and experienced puberty, an uglier side of the church began to emerge. Starting at the age of 12, I had to meet with my bishop almost every week (alone, in a closed room) for “worthiness interviews.” If my changing body had caused me to “sin” that week, I was instructed not to partake of the sacrament at the risk of damnation – “For whoso eateth and drinketh my flesh and blood unworthily eateth and drinketh damnation to his soul.” (1 Corinthians 11)
The sacrament, also known as communion by other faiths, was a sabbath ritual during which bread and water, representing the flesh and blood of Christ, were blessed by the priesthood and distributed, row-by-row, to the entire congregation. When you passed on the sacrament, everyone in your entire community of faith could see this and know your filthy little secret.
I truly believed that I was fallen from grace. That I was damned. And I wrestled with that every day.
In this way was I privately accosted, publicly shamed, and internally tormented over my supposed transgressions for my entire teenage life.
I left home to attend Brigham Young University on a full-ride academic scholarship the week after I turned 17. The “Honor Code” there includes a rule that requires an “Ecclesiastical Endorsement” – the approval of a religious leader – to stay enrolled in school. I met a girl there. As our relationship progressed, we reached a point that crossed a “line” in terms of LDS worthiness – that is, we had oral sex. Anxious to repent of our shared sin, we met with our bishop, as is the protocol for such things. The bishop is meant to help those who are struggling with advice and support and set you on a path to abandon your sin and become worthy again. Instead, following several lines of sexually explicit questioning (“did you orgasm?” “what kind of underwear was she wearing?” “did you masturbate to the experience later?”) our bishop retracted our ecclesiastical endorsements. A “disciplinary council” of adult men with church authority met with me behind closed doors and performed a rite of “disfellowship.” We were both kicked out of school. I was still only 17 years old. I lost my scholarship. I plunged into a deep depression. Eventually there was a suicide attempt. I am no longer a member of the LDS church, but the scars and conditioning for self-loathing, shame, and guilt have never truly healed.