Sunday, 8 May 2011


“If I revealed all that has been made known to me, scarcely a man on this stand would stay with me, and, Brethren, if I were to tell you all I know of the kingdom of God, I do know that you would rise up and kill me.”
“In your hands or that of any other person, so much power would, no doubt, be dangerous. I am the only man in the world whom it would be safe to trust with it. Remember, I am a prophet!”
Joseph Smith, Jr. (1805 – 1844)

I CAN REMEMBER THE BEGINNING almost to the hour of the day, easily the month and year. It is the ending that is unclear. It began exactly 38 years ago, and was over about 8 years ago, give or take a few years.

When people find out that I was a Mormon for over a quarter of a century, for most of my adult life, they often ask me how I managed to get involved in such a peculiar cult. How did a chain-smoking, drug-taking, manic-depressive and anxiety-ridden lad raised in the Church of England and on rock and roll end up singing “Come, Come, Ye Saints!” a couple of times a month, year after year?

Mormonism is, in 2011, a great deal easier to investigate in depth, thanks to the Internet, new revelations, confessions, books and personal testimonies. I dare say that a person aged 61 who has not developed dementia, and has had some experience of life, if just through conversation and correspondence and late-night television, is likely to question a great deal of what he is offered. Particularly when it sounds too good to be true. When I was 23 years old, in August 1973, I knew very little of the Church of the Latter-day Saints, except that Brigham Young had had a great many wives and over fifty children. I had not picked up that knowledge in Sunday school, but in conversation with my grandmother. It is worth noting that a recent publication of the LDS Church does not include the multiple wives and children of the Church Presidents. I dare say even the Third World nowadays, where the Mormons are seeking converts, might frown on Church history.

My grandmother had told me that when she was a little girl, which would be no later than the year 1910, if she and her siblings were naughty, my great-grandmother would tell them: “If you don’t behave, the Mormons will come and get you.”

My great-grandparents and their seven children lived near Burnley, Lancashire. Happens that in the years after 1830, when Joseph Smith Jr. founded the Mormon Church, missionaries were sent to Great Britain (and other countries in Europe) to convert white folks and get them to bring their families and funds to America, to gather to Smith’s Zion. Zion had to be reinvented several times as the Mormons, both homegrown and converted overseas, were hated and hounded, persecuted and driven out of street, town, state and finally the boundaries of the USA at that time.

Many of the English converts joined the Church in Lancashire, within but a few miles of the villages where my mother’s family lived. My great-grandmother’s threat of Mormons kidnapping boys and girls and taking them away to America was probably quite effective. I imagine missionaries in top hats, carrying strange scriptures and talking in unintelligible American tongues, would appear in and around Burnley. I have researched and studied my family history in considerable detail, especially the folks in the past 200 years, and, so far as I can tell, no member, naughty or nice, on my mother’s side in the North, or my father’s side in the Midlands and Southern Counties, ever converted to Mormonism in Britain, and none caught the ships in Liverpool and sailed away to the Promised Land to gather in Joseph Smith’s or Brigham Young’s latest City on a Hill.

We now know that Brigham Young (and other Church leaders) told the missionaries, lads in their teens, sent off to Britain and Europe, that they should convert attractive, young, unmarried women, who looked promising as child-bearers, in particular. Not as prospective wives for the young missionary converting them, for the girls must be set on the rough seas and dusty trails to Salt Lake City where they would discover they had joined a church that believed, above all things, godliness only comes with polygamy. Back in Britain, such practises would have been strenuously denied. The girls would be married to the elderly Brethren in positions of power in the Church who collected plural wives.

On trips to Utah, I have looked in telephone books and have noted that many surnames are typical of the people of the towns in the North of England. Men and boys over here also converted and followed the command to gather in America.

Among the converts in Scotland was an ancestor of a friend of mine whose family, in 1973, was still essentially LDS. James Campbell Livingston was born in Lanarkshire in December 1833. In 1849, young Livingston was baptized into the Mormon faith, and, in 1853, he left for America, by ship from Glasgow to Liverpool to New Orleans, over nine weeks at sea in all. He went up the Mississippi River to Nauvoo, the former Mormon city, where he met Joseph Smith’s widow, first wife, Emma. We now know that Joseph had at least 33 wives, most likely over 40. Joseph was fond of young girls who might be employed by Emma. Joseph would get a sudden revelation and the girl, one as young as 14, some already married, would be told that an angel with a flaming sword had threatened Joseph with death (!) if he did not marry the particular girl. James Livingston would not have known all this at that time, if ever in such detail, but when he arrived in Utah, he did take three wives and fathered 18 children. He was one of the quarrymen for the Salt Lake Temple where plural marriages took place. By the way, Emma Smith was not a fan of polygamy and always threw Joseph’s latest wives out, and Emma eventually claimed that Joseph had never practised spiritual wifery, despite her documented part in it. Lies beget lies.

In the summer of 1973, my LDS friend visited me while I was house- and pet-sitting in Bermuda. One day the two Mormon missionaries stationed in Bermuda stopped by on some errand to see my friend, and I met them long enough, as I recall, to nod my head. Elders Belnap and Mortensen came by again after my friend had gone off to the USA, and we chatted a bit. I chain-smoked and they told me in brief what they were doing in Bermuda. Self-supporting missionaries, two years in the field, working out of New York City. This interested me, the concept of lads younger than I was committed to a cause, even if I had no idea what exactly they believed in.

Could they come by another time and tell me about their church? Certainly. You don’t mind if I smoke, do you? It is not good for you. I know that.

It turned out that the missionaries had a very slick presentation kit, coloured pictures and charts that could be flipped over in a binder, and it did fascinate me. Apparently their Joseph Smith had been directed to some golden plates on which was engraved a book (of Mormon) which he translated using curious spectacles. The missionaries showed me paintings of Joseph sitting with his golden plates while his scribe wrote down the translation as Joseph gave it. Smith was not wearing his magical goggles, however, which I would like to have seen. The Urim and Thummim, they were called. There were no representations of Smith in one room with his face in his hat, in which was a peep-stone, or seer-stone, calling out his translation to someone out of sight, at a distance, and no golden plates. One now knows that this was the manner Smith supposedly dictated his Book, nobody besides Smith ever saw the golden plates uncovered, something was under a blanket at one time, but it was not revealed to any witness.

Smith’s visitations by gods and angels were recorded, re-recorded, and changed until he was murdered in 1844. Family and friends claimed different versions that had been related to them by the Prophet or amongst themselves. The stories became more and more convoluted and forced to fit the latest situation. The Angel Moroni, the keeper of the buried box containing the golden plates, was sometimes a white toad or salamander. Smith, like many people in that part of the world at that time, believed in folk magic. His line of work had been seeking buried treasure using a peep-stone. Treasure never found. Well, until the Book of Mormon.

If Elders Belnap and Mortensen had told me their Prophet translated by looking into a hat jammed on his face to keep out the light, there being a stone he had found while digging years before in the hat, on which words would appear, I would have thought it so much nonsense. Those missionaries would not have known all this either. In fact, I doubt that it is taught to potential converts in the huts of the South American and African countries where the Mormons are canvassing today. What pretty pictures do the Mormon Elders flip in their binders in 2011, say in the Philippines?

I did not feel immediately inclined to go to a church service with the Mormons, but I accepted an invitation to a “Family Home Evening” with some members of the Bermuda Branch of the Church. There were a fair number of people, all clean-cut, eating tacos and jell-o and drinking Kool-Aid, with prayers to start the gathering, bless the food, and to send everyone home safely. Everybody was rather nice.

This is what converted me. The toothy, smiling, happy faces. The abundant food.

Then the doctrine: Families are forever! That was an idea I rather liked as I had a few relatives I would be quite happy visiting in the afterlife. At some of the get-togethers there was one peculiar woman who had been having no end of miscarriages, but who firmly believed that she would be reunited with those children of hers and would raise them in the afterlife.

Without any reservations, I went through the course prepared for investigators and the missionaries told me to pray about it. Ask if it was true, Brother Eldridge. And I did, and got no reply. That was in the autumn of 1973. Nice parties, nice people, even if I had to smoke outside, God was silent. I should have listened to that silence! Belnap and Mortensen had mentioned that God and Jesus had bodies of flesh, had passions and parts. There was little mentioned concerning the key LDS doctrine that God once was a man, and that we men might become gods.

I was challenged to stop smoking, and drinking alcohol and tea and coffee. The missionaries and the happy people probably had not known that Joseph Smith and his cronies drank wine in their temples in Ohio and Nauvoo. Joseph served it to his guests at his home. Tea and coffee were used and went with the Saints to Utah. All this after the Word of Wisdom.

In the autumn of 1973, Elder Mortensen finished the Bermuda portion of his mission and an Elder Love replaced him. In February of 1974, Elder Belnap left and Elder Burke arrived.

I do not think I am subject to revelations or great knowledge, but I knew, somehow, that Elder Carl Burke was an unusual fellow. I bumped into a fair number of LDS missionaries in my time, but Carl was a special friend from the get-go. In addition, it was Elder Carl Burke who baptized me on 1 August 1974. I had given up smoking, tea, and coffee to make the grade, and was attending services in the chapel used by the Saints in Bermuda. Once I was baptized, Carl was transferred back to New York City to complete his mission. In 1975, he returned to Bermuda as a civilian, and worked in a motor garage on the US NAS for a few months, staying with me part of that time.

I had a close friendship with Carl Burke and his family, and was devastated when he died suddenly some five years ago.

Despite anxiety disorder, I was attending and taking part in some LDS church services. I learned how to conduct meetings, to give talks, teach classes. All using the very basic information available to us.

Until June of 1978, it had been doctrine of the Mormon Church that people of colour, if they converted to Mormonism, could eventually have their skin magically lightened. However, they could not, if they were Negroes, be anything more than a basic member of the Church, and could hold no offices or enter Temples. With Church officials unable to tell which of their prospective converts in countries like Brazil might have a trace (even the smallest) of black blood, which would make them ineligible to be full Mormons, a revelation arrived saying everyone could come on in. Fundamentalist Mormons, who tend to remain true to Joseph Smith’s teachings regarding polygamy, race, and the ways of heaven and earth, disregarded the latest change in the unchangeable word of the Lord.

I have travelled to Utah a few times and enjoyed my time in large and small towns. I have held church positions here and there, and went in the Temple in St George, Utah, to receive my endowments, and picked up my sacred/secret Temple name that I must never reveal (it is Dan), and appreciated how fragile many of the Saints are in Utah. So many on tranquilizers, so many depressed, so many trying to be on top in Ponzi Schemes. Moreover, so many choosing ignorance so as not to upset the scheme of things, believing and doing what the Old Men in Salt Lake City command.

“I have a hard time with historians because they idolize the truth. The truth is not uplifting; it destroys. I could tell most of the secretaries in the church office building that they are ugly and fat. That would be the truth, but it would hurt and destroy them. Historians should tell only that part of the truth that is inspiring and uplifting.”
LDS Apostle Boyd K. Packer, when interviewing a prospective member of the BYU faculty in 1976.

About 8 years ago, we started getting books by members of the Mormon Church and others that have uncovered some rather startling and unpleasant Church history. It has seemed to me that the Mormons I have known over the past almost-forty years simply could not, did not, know most of what we are learning at such a pace now.

I wrote to the LDS authorities and asked them to remove my name from their records, utterly and completely. It was easier than I expected. At least I hope so. I received a letter saying it had been done, but any time I wanted to return I should contact them.

Mormons are somewhat fanatical about keeping their numbers up. They canvas for converts in the here and now and in the hereafter. You may not know that they do baptisms for the dead, which is why they are out copying records all over the world. You may be horrified to know that Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun have been baptised, by proxy, in the font in a Temple basement so that they can chose whether to be Mormons, and to enable them to carry on and become gods.

It is not that I now believe Mormonism to be so much guff, and I do, but that I find no attachment to any God, Lord or Maker, any Creator, any Great Magician or Spoon-Bender. When I look out over the landscape on sunny days, or days like today (grey, a bit cloudy), I see the world as it is. I do not see it rolling forth out of time. If I have a feeling about it, it is the immediate warmth on my face, not the hot breath of gods on my body, or the Holy Spirit flaming up in my chest.

Do I regret my quarter-century in Mormonism? Not at all. I have learned a great deal, made some lovely friends, travelled about, and in reading the exposés have been entertained and my knowledge broadened. Somehow, fortunately, I do not feel to have been made a fool of.

For someone today, with access to libraries, bookshops, lecturers and the media, I can only say that you should not believe that Joseph Smith Jr. did what they told me he did when I was new to this, about 40 years ago. He has been shown to be something quite different. He and his followers changed their histories repeatedly, they changed their perfect books, and they changed their unchangeable gods.

“It is better to be hated for what you are than to be loved for something you are not.”
André Gide (1869 – 1951)

The ministering of angels might just be indigestion.

Ross Eldridge
8 May 2011

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