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One Last Blessing

I dreaded giving blessings. Maybe I would have been a better Home Teacher if people didn’t ask faithful Home Teachers for blessings. Ask me to help you move, paint your fence, or fix your computer. Just spare me the pressure of giving you a blessing. One last blessing gave me the determination to leave the church.

I was rounding up the girls to go home from church when I was approached by the Elders Quorum President to help him give a blessing. My heart sunk. I hated giving blessings even when I believed in Mormonism, but now I didn’t believe in God let alone modern prophets of God. Those doubts were still private, and I wanted to keep them that way for a while longer. I was trying to regain my testimony for my wife’s sake. Part of trying to gain a testimony was doing my priesthood duty.

So I followed the President toward the cultural hall. Two women and several children were waiting on the stairs leading to the stage. One woman I knew from church. The other I had never seen before in my life. This other was the woman whom I was being asked to prophesy over.

Giving a blessing always followed a pattern for me. Whenever someone asked for me to give them a blessing, my mind started racing. What would I say? Would God speak through me? Had there been anything that I did that I should have repented of? What would they think of me? What did God think of me? Would God support me in trying to do my duty?

I had been taught that if I opened my mouth in faith, God would fill it. It never happened that way for me: I never felt any special inspiration. I concluded that I must not have enough faith. I begged and pleaded with God to inspire me. I begged him to make me his worthy servant. All to no avail. It was always the same: I was left to my own devices.

I had never felt a special inspiration to say anything in particular while giving blessings. It was always a shot in the dark, a guess. For all I could tell, God didn’t care whether I promised a person that they would be healed completely or whether I told them to prepare for death. I never felt a special guidance.

So I always walked a tightrope. On the one hand, I could decline to pronounce a blessing and feel like a faithless, heartless schmuck, enduring their scorn. On the other, I could speak as if I knew the mind of God with a confidence that I didn’t feel, promising the moon only to look like a fool when my promises came to nothing. I was too afraid to do either one, so I split the difference and promised only safe things. Rarely would I promise someone complete healing. Only if the person was asking to be blessed for some minor illness that was unlikely to prove fatal would I promise them that they would recover. I always counseled them to listen to their doctors.

The same went for naming my babies. Naming babies was the mental anguish of giving a blessing magnified. The public ritual of naming a newborn and giving them a blessing in front of the congregation only made things worse. I would brainstorm good things that I wanted my children to have and that I presumed Heavenly Father would like them to have too (since we both loved our children). I would pray about my ideas beforehand to see if God approved. I wouldn’t feel anything special either way, as if God were saying “Sure, whatever. Sounds good to me.” I agonized, fasted, and prayed over what I would say, and the most I got was a shrug of the divine shoulders?

We all walked up to the stage, the woman seeking a blessing sat in a chair, and we gathered around her. I asked the woman to give me her full name. I repeated it back to her to avoid any embarrassing mistakes. I put my hands on her head, the President covered my hands with his own, and everyone else folded their arms and closed their eyes.

Those Sisters (it was always Sisters) sat there expecting me to speak for God like it was the easiest thing in the world. I secretly resented when women would ask me for blessings, for putting me through this torture. I tried to forgive them by telling myself that if they really knew what it was like, they probably wouldn’t ask. I think many Mormon men don’t ask for blessings because they know what it’s like for the person giving the blessing (and deep down they know how uninspired most blessings are).

With few exceptions, blessings never seemed to do much of anything. People would get better (except for when they didn’t) in due time, just like any Gentile would. I never witnessed any miraculous cures or extraordinary instances of prophesy. I never saw the blind given sight, the deaf made to hear, a lost limb restored, or the dead raised to life. As far as I could tell, the world went on spinning regardless of whether or not someone received a blessing. Subconsciously, this made my resentment for being asked to give a blessing even greater because I felt like we could skip the pointless exercise and spare me the mental anguish.

I sent one more silent, urgent prayer that God would guide my words, and I began. “Sister X, in the name of Jesus Christ and through the authority of the Melchizedek Priesthood, we lay our hands on your head to give you a blessing of comfort and peace.”

With the easy part over, I took a deep breath. Feeling no special inspiration, I told her safe, comforting things. “Your Heavenly Father loves you.” “Your family life will improve as you attend church.” “Be diligent in your scripture study and prayer.” “Listen to your priesthood leaders.” I said whatever I thought she wanted to hear.

In this way, this blessing was different than all the previous blessings that I had given in my life. I was consciously lying to her. All the other times, I had some hope that God would come through for me and fill my mind with his divine will. This time I had lost that hope.

If I had been honest, I would have declined to go through this ritual which had become empty for me. But doing so would be to admit that I lacked faith or that I was somehow unworthy of God’s communication. And they wanted to hear comforting words. How could I refuse to give them comfort? I just wanted to do the right thing and make everyone happy.

So I did the best I could with what I had. When asked, I showed up and begged for divine guidance. Lacking that as I always did, I said what I could without overcommitting myself.

From various talks given in church by other men, I don’t think I was the only one. One man during my missionary years openly admitted in a fireside that he usually just said safe, comforting things. One stake president taught in stake priesthood meeting that we should feel no pressure to prophesy when called upon to give a blessing. It was a nice idea, but impossible for me in practice. People expected to hear some prophesy, and I couldn’t bring myself to disappoint them by admitting that I wasn’t capable of it.

I left church that day knowing that I couldn’t lie anymore. I dropped a letter in the mail to my Stake President the very next Tuesday. I am so grateful that I never have to give another blessing.

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Confessions of the Lord’s Anointed

[The following is not intended to be an exposé of the Mormon temple ceremonies. The curious can find the temple ceremonies without the portions which initiates covenant to keep secret.]

When I arrived at the temple on that hot August day, I was in high hopes. This would be my first time through the temple, aside from youth trips to perform vicarious baptisms for the dead. I was told by my youth leaders before those trips that some particularly spiritual people see the spirits of the deceased who are being baptized in the temple. I had always hoped to be righteous enough to be like those people and see dead people in the temple. It never happened, but I blamed myself. I could think of lots of reasons God wouldn’t think I was righteous enough. Maybe someday I would be ready.…


I had heard such wonderful things about the temple. Everyone told me how special and uplifting it was. They told me that the Holy Spirit was stronger there than anywhere else in the world. I hoped that my experience in the temple would make my belief in the divinity of the Mormon church more sure. I believed that the gospel was true, but there were always doubts somewhere in the back of my mind. I longed to pass through the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost and take my place as a faithful member of God’s church with an abiding conviction. I wanted to be truly converted.

I would be leaving on a mission soon, and receiving these ceremonies was an important step in preparing to serve. I had taken a temple preparation class and the Stake President had hinted at what would go on within the walls of the temple. He wasn’t very specific because what went on in the temple was considered too sacred to be discussed outside of its walls, even within the precincts of the Mormon chapel that I had grown up attending.

I had already had ample opportunity to discover the secret ceremonies before I personally entered the temple if that is what I had wanted. I worked as a page in a local library, shelving books. My boss assigned me to a section of the library which included the religious books. The book Secret Ceremonies was published during my time at the library. I skimmed sections of the book reading about the sordid details of the author’s life in Mormonism, but I fastidiously avoided the sections regarding the details of the ceremonies. I didn’t want to violate the sanctity of the temple ceremony with my uninitiated eyes.

So when I arrived at the temple with my parents on that hot summer’s day, I was in the dark about most of what was going to happen. I entered the temple and showed the Brother at the front counter my living ordinance recommend which showed that I had been recommended by my bishop and stake president as a faithful Mormon who was worthy to enter the sacred temple.

I was led past the counter to the locker room where I would exchange my “street” clothing (dress slacks, shirt, and tie) for all-white clothing symbolizing light, purity, and equality. When I entered the locker room, I was met by a shocking sight. Two men wearing strange hats, white flowing robes, and green aprons entered the locker room. They had just finished an endowment ceremony and were returning to the locker room to change their clothing before leaving the temple. I had already seen the ceremonial temple clothing—which is worn on top of the white clothing I was wearing—when my mother and I had purchased my own ceremonial clothing in preparation for this eventful day, but to see it being worn for the first time was a striking experience.

What exactly had I gotten myself into? I wondered to myself. I swallowed my apprehension and dove in.

I was calm throughout the proceedings even during portions of the ceremonies which would have made me uncomfortable in other circumstances. Being clothed in nothing more than a white poncho for the washings and anointings didn’t bother me as much as I had expected (although I did check to make sure that they really did mean for me to take off all of my clothing). Fumbling like a toddler to put on the ceremonial robes during the endowment ceremony didn’t embarrass me like it might have.

You’re given several opportunities to back out before entering into temple covenants. I wasn’t told what those covenants were prior to being given the chance to back out, so it was a leap of faith on my part to plunge forward. I wondered if anyone ever had backed out in the middle of the ceremony.


I was hot and confused when the day was over as I drove home from the temple with my parents. The late afternoon was extremely hot and I was now wearing an extra layer of clothing: the Garment of the Holy Priesthood. The temple ceremonies were too much to take in all at once. It seemed like I had just entered into an entirely different church, one that I had no idea existed before today. I was bewildered by the strangeness of my experience, but it felt good to be a new member of this exclusive club. I felt more grown up. I reviewed in my mind my new, secret name; the secret grips and signs; and the words of the ceremonies. I believed that I would need to remember them to get into heaven, so committing them to memory was very important.

I hadn’t experienced profound communion with the Holy Spirit in the temple as I had hoped, but perhaps if I kept my new covenants, perhaps I would someday soon.…

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Ritual Violence

There is violence inherent in rituals which separate “us” from “them”. Mormonism is full of those rituals. They create artificial connections and distinctions. Baptism separates members from non-members. Priesthood ordination separates active male members from women and unqualified men. The Washings and Anointings and the Endowment separate the Lord’s Anointed from the the unwashed masses. Sealing sets a distinction between those who have fulfilled all ritual requirements to be exalted in the Celestial Kingdom from those who have not because they are unmarried or married outside of the ritual. Each step along the way confers to the individual an arbitrary reason to feel special and distinct and to feel superior to those who have not taken that step.

In Margaret Toscano’s interview for The Mormons, she tells the story of her excommunication. When asked if her excommunication had affected her relationship to her family, she said:

That’s probably the most painful part about the excommunication is the way in which, if you’re a part of a large Mormon family, it really does hurt your relationship with your family.… One of them, my sister Janice Allred, was also excommunicated. But the way that my family has dealt with this is by silence. We don’t talk about it. It’s this thing in the corner that you never talk about. That makes it really bad.

… This kind of situation for a Mormon family is very difficult, because it creates a contradiction that the family doesn’t want to admit is even there. The contradiction is that if you’re an active, believing Mormon family, you can’t say the church did something wrong. So on one level they’ve got to say the excommunication was right. On the other hand, there’s a part of them—they know me; they know my other sister, and they know Paul. They can’t say—at least most of them won’t say—that we’re bad people. So how do you deal with this contradiction? You know, did we deserve the excommunication? Didn’t we? They don’t even want to think about it.

… For me the really painful thing is that there’s this distance, where you’re no longer part of this assumed believing connection; that it creates a barrier. To me that’s the worst part of it. The other parts that are painful, of course, is that as with most religious communities, basic family rituals are centered around the church, so when you’re excommunicated, you no longer can participate in those family rituals, and that is very painful. Blessings of children, births, marriages, deaths—these vital things that bring us together as families and where even if you haven’t seen a family member for a long time, you connect again at these moments—you’re excluded. I have times now where my family members don’t even tell me about things that are happening, because I can’t participate. So you become an outcast in some ways that is really painful.

Probably the most painful is in death, I think.… My younger sister passed away a little over a year ago. She died of cancer. One Mormon ritual is that when a person dies, you dress them in their temple clothing before you bury them. My brother-in-law, who’s a very active Mormon, very patriarchal, if I can say that, he did not want my sister and myself to be part of that. He didn’t want us to help dress her body, and that—I mean, that cut me so deep, I haven’t gotten over it. I don’t know if I ever will, because this way of saying goodbye to somebody you love, and the idea that somehow I’m unclean, I’m somehow polluted—and he just wanted me to accept this. That was very painful. It’s very, very painful. That’s probably the worst part of being excommunicated.

Judging only from what was said by Margaret Toscano, the rituals of the church separated her from participating in communal grieving. I don’t blame her brother-in-law because he was only following the ritual ban on the participation of the uninitiated or excommunicated.

Mormon ritual got in the way of human compassion and the process of grief. It severed the family in one of its most vulnerable moments. Of course Margaret Toscano was given a path back to full fellowship with the Church and she chose on her own not to take it, but why should that have anything to do with her relationship to her family?

Other examples abound. Mormons probably all know someone who wasn’t able to attend a marriage ceremony because they hadn’t met ritual requirements. Many of my own family and friends couldn’t attend my wedding for that exact reason. Now that I no longer number myself among the faithful, I will not be ritually qualified to fully participate in the celebration of any new child born into my family by standing with the men in my family and blessing the newborn. The women in my family never were able to do so. The ritual has no meaning to me theologically, but it is meaningful in that it is a part of my family’s life. I am now excluded—certainly by my own choice, but also by others who choose to give Mormon ritual rules priority over family relationships—from being a full participant in the life of the family. The church is interjecting itself into the life of the family. What should be family moments have become church rituals. Full family membership has become contingent on church fellowship.

Mormon ritual creates artificial distinctions within the family and is therefore a kind of violence against it.

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