Growing up in the church I was frequently asked about masturbation. The cumulative doctrine during my formative years was very clear that this was a sin of the highest severity. This came in the form of “For Young Men Only” pamphlets, Books such as Miracle of Forgiveness, frequent priesthood preview meetings, quorum curriculum, general conference talks (Little Factory) and personal interviews with my bishop.
This was all coupled with the “doctrine” that ecclesiastical leaders had a direct pipeline to God’s will and that it enabled them to see my mind and heart. I felt such incredible shame when interviewed to go on youth trips to the temple to perform baptisms for the dead. I lied.
Decades later, I can still feel my heart pounding as I sat in the temple waiting to go in to the baptistery. I was sure that the temple workers could actually hear my heart in my chest and could see me swallowing nervously. But that wasn’t the worst part. I honestly felt like the spirit recipients of my proxy baptism were standing next to me. They were enraged at me for performing the baptism unworthily and as a result of my actions, their baptism would be void.
The shame and unworthiness I felt has stayed with me for decades. I associated the gospel with shame. Since the gospel is “good” I operated under the pattern that to feel shame means I’m doing things correctly. I married a woman in the temple that used this pattern of shame in our relationship. The church and these interviews groomed me for this toxic marriage which ended in divorce nearly 20 years later.
I remarried a non-member and this amazing woman accompanied me to an interview with my bishop where I wanted to discuss some issues regarding the protection of my children from this ecclesiastical shame. When we left she appeared pale and said she had witnessed me revert to the emotional level of a shamed child during that interview. I am a successful surgeon and a leader in my field, but for those few minutes I reassumed the role of that pre-teen boy in the bishop’s office. I am just now dealing with these scars in a meaningful way. Thanks Sam. Your efforts mean everything to me.