Sins of a "Good Mormon Boy"
Continued from previous page
I spent no time complaining. I didn’t ask why God had saddled me with seemingly impossible circumstances. I got to work. I kept “For the Strength of Youth” beside my bed. I read from it on long nights when I lie awake alone in my room listening to the clock tick, my squirmy adolescent body denying me any sleep.
To stay my hand, I convinced my mother to take me to our local branch of Deseret Book, a church-owned chain, and buy me a thick silver ring decorated with a shield emblazoned with the letters “CTR,” meaning “Choose the Right.” When temptation haunted me, I twisted the ring until the skin beneath chaffed and bled.
I also kept a record of my progress on a calendar I had squirreled away in my nightstand. On days when I managed to refrain from touching myself, I awarded myself a star. But according to popular Mormon belief, if you repent of a specific sin and then repeat it, all your previous sins return to weigh on your conscience. My calendar’s pages didn’t shine like the Milky Way. They were filled with black holes.
A few months into my experiment in the astronomy of chasteness, my Sunday school teacher announced that, for the first time, I would join my fellow young men on a trip to the temple to perform baptisms for the dead, one of Mormonism’s most sacred and, for better or worse, distinctive rituals. To give dead non-Mormons a last-chance, take-it-or-leave-it opportunity to convert to Mormonism and secure a place in the Mormon hereafter, a volunteer would immerse himself in the baptismal font’s cozy water while pronouncing or, more often, horribly mispronouncing the earthly name of some lucky non-Mormon soul, choosing at random from one or another far-flung corner of the world.
In order to save legions of imperiled non-Mormon souls and demonstrate beyond doubt the purity of my own soul, I had to ace the worthiness interview.
On the Saturday morning of our trip to the temple, I dressed in my Sunday clothes — my no-iron white shirt, my no-iron black slacks, my red-and-blue-striped clip-on tie — and made my way to the empty church classroom where my bishop waited to kindly, patiently, methodically grill me about the most intimate aspects of my private life.
Rather than make eye contact with my bishop, I preferred to study the framed print hanging on the wall behind him: a colorful painting of Christ preaching atop a Mayan pyramid to a throng of rapt listeners.
“Do you keep the Law of Chastity?” my bishop asked.
“Yes.” I worried that I answered too quickly.
“Have you engaged in any sexual activity with others?”
“Do you touch yourself?”
Satisfied, my bishop filled out my temple recommend card, a slip of stiff paper that stated my name, gender, age, and the temple rituals I was allowed to perform (indicated by a checked box next to the words “baptism for dead only.”) He handed me the card to sign. I signed it with my sweaty little hand.
I stepped into the hallway where the other boys were waiting to do their interviews. They marveled at my temple recommend. I tucked it into its plastic protector and sat silently until we left for the temple.
As we entered the chilly white-granite building, I expected that the sweet granny volunteering at the front desk would detect my imposture and call security to perp-walk me off the premises. After all, the people I most loved and respected had taught me that God would never allow His temples to be violated. Surely, the pious little grannies volunteering at the temple had a godly knack for separating chaste sheep from randy, impure goats.