A Great and Dreadful Day, Part 7: Twilight of the Prophets

The catch-all forum for general topics and debates. Minimal moderation. Rated PG to PG-13.
Post Reply
_Bob Bobberson
_Emeritus
Posts: 110
Joined: Thu Apr 14, 2011 6:39 pm

A Great and Dreadful Day, Part 7: Twilight of the Prophets

Post by _Bob Bobberson »

Part SEVEN


The Twilight of the Prophets






“You can buy anything in this world with money.”


--Anonymous






- SIXTY -


As the year drew to a close, something was becoming increasingly clear to a number of people within the LDS Church. Some of the computer people in the Church Office Building had begun to speak with increasing excitement about modems, and Mosaic, and about something they called ‘the Web.’ In January, a few of these people were given time off of work to attend the Superhighway Summit in Los Angeles. When they returned, they typed up and gave reports to the Brethren.

For the most part, the General Authorities disregarded what the computer people were saying. In part this was a function of distraction: they were busy attending to the details of President Baylor’s passing, and of the questions related to succession. It was also because the Internet-related concepts seemed like gibberish to them—yet another instance of technology moving along a chronological line that differed from the one that had been prescribed by the Lord. Then again, as Elder Christenson pointed out, the Saints had always counted innovators and inventors among their numbers, including Elder Farnsworth, who invented the television. When the Brethren were told that this new development—the Internet—had the potential to change things in much the same way that television and the printing press had, they were skeptical and optimistic. Elder Walker reminded everyone of the Church’s great success with short television spots during the 1980s, and together the General Authorities wondered aloud about the possibility of doing similar things with this so-called “Internet.”

Alone among them in outright dissent was Elder C. Rigdon Pitt, who demanded to be filled in on the details. When it was explained to him that this so-called “Internet” would link millions of people together, and that it would make information easily accessible to people worldwide at the click of a button, his immediate reactions was concern and fear. “Our enemies will use this against us,” he said. The young man from the COB—Elder Sanders—tried to explain to him that the growth of the Web was inevitable, and that it couldn’t be stopped, and that the Church should make an effort to adapt to it and to use it advantageously, but Pitt was uninterested in listening. He was on the verge of being sustained as the new President of the Church, and was therefore preoccupied.

The rest of the Brethren were sanguine, but were slow to make any decisions pertaining to what they’d been told. They, like Pitt, had other matters to attend to in those days, such as the reorganization of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve in the wake of the deaths of President Baylor and of Elder MacDowell, who had passed away in his sleep over the Christmas holidays. The Brethren also had to worry about the day-to-day business of running the Church: issues of finances, missionary work, ambassadorship, spreading the gospel, hiring at the Lord’s University, and so on. They had family lives, too, which extracted yet more of their time.

In the meantime, though, Mosaic was replaced by Netscape Navigator, and in short order the world came online. Among the people who first began browsing the Web in those days was Bruce Wilson, an ex-Mormon living in Dallas. He was intrigued by the possibilities that the Internet opened up, and in his spare time (during the day he worked as a petroleum engineer) he took up the hobby of learning Web design and computer science, and before long he launched his own Web site. On it, he shared the story of his exit from the LDS Church, and in no time at all, his email inbox was flooded with responses from people who had undergone similar trials. A commonality in the emails was a sense of surprise that there were others out there who had gone through the same pain and agony and sense of betrayal. Most of the ex-Mormons in the United States, and indeed the world, had been unaware of such things as ex-Mormon conferences or groups. Prior to the Internet, they had existed more or less in isolation. So Bruce Wilson expanded his site, and he added a discussion forum to it, and it exploded in popularity. He was getting thousands of hits a day. The conversations on the forum ran the gamut: talk of annoyance at people in the Church—their judgmentalism, or gossiping, or backwardness; stories of abusive bishops and stake presidents; talk of the temple; talk of garments; talk of issues surrounding Church history. Often, people were very angry, and emotions tended to be rather raw. The thing about Bruce Wilson’s site, and the Internet more generally, is that it allowed for anonymity, which made people feel safe. So whereas people in the past may have never felt comfortable discussing, say, their horror at the strangeness of the temple endowment ceremony, suddenly they had the means to do so, and to do it amidst a community of sympathetic listeners.

Bruce Wilson lorded over his Web site with a very tender touch. He did what he could to help the people who were learning disquieting truths about the Church for the first time. There were people who turned up on the messageboard whose marriages were dissolving because of one person’s disbelief, and people who had learned for the first time about Joseph Smith’s extensive polygamy, or his relationships with teenaged girls. What Bruce Wilson came to realize is that the LDS Church, up until now, had been able—more or less—to keep a lid on all sorts of problematic issues, but now all of these things were accessible at the click of a mouse button.

There were unintended consequences to this, though. In addition to the emails expressing thanks, Bruce Wilson often got extremely angry messages from faithful Mormons who expressed outrage that he would dare tarnish their faith. They accused him of lying, of being a pawn of Satan, of misrepresenting and distorting the truth, of being a coward, of breaking his sacred covenants, of “kicking against the pricks,” and of simply being an apostate. At first he tried to explain himself, to express the pain he’d felt at discovering that Mormonism wasn’t true, but this only made them angrier. He replied that he had nothing against them as individuals, and that instead his real beef was with the Church leadership and institution, but they always took it personally. To criticize the LDS Church was to criticize the people themselves.

So Bruce Wilson endured, and the years passed by. Other Web sites began to appear, and some of them were sent threatening letters from the Church’s lawyers. Often this was because the sites’ owners had posted text excerpted from some document—a lesson manual, say, or a rule book—for which the Church held a copyright. Bruce read this as the Church’s rather feeble attempt to stifle criticism. By this point, among the online ex-Mormon community, it was well-known that the Church had a long history of crushing dissent, of censorship, and of the freewheeling use of legal means to shut people up. What it meant, Bruce Wilson often reminded people, is that the Church was fighting a losing battle. “The truth will set us all free,” was his dictum.

By now, some fifteen years after launching his Web site, it was clear to Bruce Wilson that the LDS Church was being forced to change. Back in the early 1980s, the sociologist Rodney Stark had predicted that Mormonism would develop into the next world religion, alongside Catholicism and Islam, with membership numbers exceeding 250 million before the end of the 21st century. That didn’t seem likely anymore, however. The Church had begun to consolidate stakes and branches. Missions in Europe were being shut down, and conversion rates were falling. As far as Bruce Wilson could tell, the bulk of new conversions were happening in Third World countries, or in poverty-stricken places in the developed world—places where people had very little access to information on Mormonism. In other words, places where there was little to no Internet access. This represented a problem for the Church insofar as it would have trouble supporting itself via the collection of tithing. How much tithing were you likely to collect from a poor widow living in the slums of Quito? What is 10 percent of the income of a seven-person family living in the barrios of Atlanta?

Bruce Wilson surmised that the multi-billion dollar mall project near Temple Square was connected to this in some way. He wondered if the Church was refashioning itself into a business, rather than a religion. Of course, the Mormons, who by now had their own Web sites and message boards, pooh-poohed speculation like this, insisting it was all conspiracy theory. In the end, it didn’t much matter to Bruce. He was simply glad to be out of the Church, and to be helping others on their way out. And he was glad that the truth was out there on the Internet, easily accessible to anyone who wanted it.

He couldn’t count the number of times that people had thanked him for his Web site, and he was consistently humble in his replies. “I’m just happy that I could help,” he said, and he went on to point out that if he hadn’t launched the site, somebody else would have. It was inevitable. “I think the real heroes here,” he said, “are the Internet and the truth. Those two things together are what have brought all of us here together.”


...Next Time: A new Prophet; and, Sam in Prison....
_Bob Bobberson
_Emeritus
Posts: 110
Joined: Thu Apr 14, 2011 6:39 pm

Re: A Great and Dreadful Day, Part 7: Twilight of the Prophe

Post by _Bob Bobberson »

- SIXTY-ONE -

Amidst all the turmoil that followed in the wake of the events at F Vault, there was still the matter of the prophet’s passing. It was scarcely a week before Christmas when President Baylor died. In spite of all this, the Brethren moved quickly and cooperated with the prophet’s family in order to make funeral arrangements. President Alma Grange Baylor’s body was held in state in the tabernacle for two days, during which time hundreds of people—Mormon and otherwise—came to view him, dressed in a white suit, laying on a bed of red velvet, his head resting on a pillow of the same, and enclosed in a glass box. He looked quiet and serene and at peace. Even with his eyes closed, he seemed to be staring upwards, or to be dreaming of heaven, and of his rightful place in the Celestial Kingdom.

At his funeral, Elder Marshall, the First Counselor, gave a moving and uplifting eulogy, speaking of President Baylor’s lifelong service to the Church. He spoke of the prophet’s kindness, and his fondness for children, especially his many grandchildren and great-grandchildren. He told a humorous anecdote drawn from the Church president’s mission in Switzerland, about the mispronunciation of the word for “cream,” which in German apparently sounds similar to the word for “teeth.” So when the young President Baylor had asked for “whipped cream,” the waitress had looked askance at him, and he realized that he’d actually asked for “whipped teeth.”

There were a number of talks, both from General Authorities and Church leaders, from city officials and political leaders, and from President Baylor’s large, extended family. People cried, but mostly the funeral was a celebration of this remarkable leader’s life. The prophet’s wife had declined the suggestion that she give the benediction, and so this was done by Elder Steele.

After this, President Baylor was laid to rest in a plot in Salt Lake Cemetery, alongside countless other LDS Leaders, including Presidents Grant, Kimball, and McKay. His wife survived him by six years, but when she died, she was buried beside him in the same plot that had been given to them some forty years back. He was buried on December 23rd, the birthday of the Prophet Joseph Smith.



All of this passed, and the Church was without an anointed leader. The Brethren agreed to postpone the setting apart of Elder Pitt until after the Christmas holiday, and even after this, there were concerns for some years about Elder Pitt’s health and his mental condition. At times he seemed as sharp and as spry and vinegary as ever, but he sometimes lapsed into confusion as well. Elders Steele and Walker attempted to delay his confirmation as long as possible, but by mid-January it was impossible to delay any longer, and so they commenced with his setting apart and sustaining. Elders Walker and Marshall remained in their positions as First and Second Counselors in the First Presidency.

Obviously there were worries that, as prophet, Pitt would use his position to continue what he’d started—that he would seek a fuller kind of support for his war with the apostates, but the reality of his presidency was the exact opposite of this. The newfound power and authority had a calming effect on C. Rigdon Pitt: he seemed more docile and jovial, more inclined towards decency and kindness and fairness. It was as if his ascension to the presidency of the Church had removed all traces of cantankerousness from him.

Later that year, Pitt was finally diagnosed with colon cancer, and his surgeons were ultimately forced to remove a section of his large bowel, though he survived this and made a full recovery. He persisted well into his nineties, in fact, continuing to travel and to make contact with the Saints on all four corners of the globe.

With that, the leadership of the Church had once again been renewed. The Brethren went about their business, overseeing the management, running, and health of the Church as best as they could. They met every Thursday to convene and pray together, and to discuss all matters pertaining to the Lord’s plan, just as they always had, and they always would. This was, after all, more than a routine for them. It was their calling. Nonetheless, during Pitt’s tenure, most of them could sense a darkness gathering, and despite their faith and their best efforts, those of them with eyes enough to see felt helpless to stop it.


...Next time: Elder Steele's Conscience....
_Bob Bobberson
_Emeritus
Posts: 110
Joined: Thu Apr 14, 2011 6:39 pm

Re: A Great and Dreadful Day, Part 7: Twilight of the Prophe

Post by _Bob Bobberson »

- SIXTY-TWO -


For the second time in his life, Samuel Younger was sentenced to prison. He was incarcerated in the Utah State Prison at Point of the Mountain, near Draper. While he was there, he learned that his fellow inmates included Mark Hoffman and the Lafferty brothers, both of whom were serving time for murder.

His sentencing had been somewhat complicated, and his attorney—an ex-Mormon who had been hired, Sam learned, by a friend-of-a-friend of Don Smith’s—had been confused by the arrangements. Initially the D.A. and his assistant wanted to charge him with the first-degree murder of the facility guard and the two Church Security agents—Donald Higbee and LeGrand Mortenson—who had been killed in the debacle at the vaults at Granite Mountain, along with a slew of other charges, but the evidence to definitively and specifically link Sam to their deaths wasn’t rock-solid. Higbee’s body had been very badly burned, and Mortenson had been shot in the head, and tests showed that Sam hadn’t fired a gun. Would they be able to show that Sam had set off the bomb, then? Would they argue this as the chief cause of death for Higbee? Would they charge him as an accessory to the murders? This was early on in the plea negotiations, though, and there were other questions lingering.

Prior to this, the Salt Lake City detectives had pressed him long and hard on what he and his pals had been doing up at Granite Mountain. If Sam had learned anything during his first time through the legal system, it was that you kept your mouth shut until your lawyer showed up, and that’s exactly what he did.

Once his attorney arrived and things got underway, though, things proceeded strangely, and it gradually became clear that some outside source was feeding information to the D.A. Through his dress shirt, Sam could see the line of the District Attorney’s garment top—his “Mormon smile,” so to speak—and so he knew the man was LDS, and Sam began to wonder if the Church was telling the D.A. to negotiate according to the dictates of the Brethren.

At the outset, obviously, the D.A. wanted charges of first-degree murder for the three deaths, along with robbery and breaking and entering and arson, but he was quickly ready to negotiate in exchange for information about “Mr. Bennett.”

“If you can give us information leading to his arrest, I might be willing to ease up a little on the murder charges.”

Sam’s attorney argued that there wasn’t enough evidence to pin him with an aggravated murder charge, and so the D.A. began arguing over the robbery and breaking-and-entering, along with arson, since a good deal of the hillside near Granite Mountain had burned. If Sam would tell them about Mr. Bennett, they could talk about dropping one or more of those charges.

“They don’t want this to go to trial,” Sam’s lawyer told him later. “But I don’t think we can get out of this without doing jail time.”

It was obvious to both Sam and his attorney that the Church was looking to make all of it go away. They wouldn’t want an open trial, in which Sam could be questioned about what happened at the Eldorado, or at F Vault, and they especially did not want a situation in which any of the Brethren could be called to the stand as witnesses. Obviously, there was evidence out there that the Church was up to something odd, and the Brethren would do everything in their power to suppress and control the flow of information. It was bad enough that there had been substantial media coverage of the Granite Mountain fiasco. The Church-owned media outlets had tended to treat the whole thing as the act of a lone arsonist. There was mention in other newspapers of the van, and of bodies being found, but it seemed as if the police were being quite careful in terms of corralling the information that got out.

The D.A. returned and negotiations resumed. He asked again about Bennett, and Sam’s lawyer insisted that the District Attorney lay all his cards on the table.

“Look, here’s what I’m willing to do,” he said. “You give us everything you know on Bennett, and depending on what you tell me, we might be willing to drop everything except the breaking and entering and a manslaughter charge. You’ll plead guilty to both, and you’ll get 35 years, meaning that you’ll probably only serve 15.”

Both Sam and his lawyer thought it over. All things considered, what with Sam’s priors, this would probably be just about the best deal possible. So they haggled a bit more, and had the D.A. put the terms into writing before Sam signed off on it.

After this, Sam did indeed tell the D.A. everything he knew about “Mr. Bennett,” though obviously that was virtually nothing. He didn’t even know his first name—or whether “Bennett” was his first or last name. He didn’t know where Bennett lived, where he had come from, where he’d gone to school—or if he’d gone at all—or whether he was married.

“Why were you working with a man you knew so little about?” said the D.A.

“I couldn’t tell you,” said Sam. “I guess it’s just that I believed in what he was doing. What he represented.”

“And what was that?”

“The truth.”

The District Attorney snorted at this and excused himself.

In the course of these discussions, Sam was able to learn that everyone else in their sortie had died. Christian and Albert had been killed by gunfire and Lawrence had broken his neck when the minivan overturned. As for Bennett, it was unclear whether he’d survived or not, but given the line of questioning, it seemed that the authorities believed that he was still at large. They had found the partially burned remains of the black, army-surplus jacket that he’d been wearing on the other side of the hilltop, but nothing else.

When Sam told them that he’d seen Bennett wrestling with another man, glances were exchanged.

“I think someone else was there,” said Sam.

“We know,” was their reply, but they refused to elaborate on this. All they would say is that, based on the evidence, it appeared that Mr. Bennett was being pursued by someone. Whether this was someone from secular law enforcement or Church Security, they wouldn’t say, but their reticence was odd, in any case.

Sam’s attorney joked, “Maybe it was one of the three Nephites,” but neither the D.A. nor his assistant found this funny in the slightest.

With that, Sam signed all the paper work, formally pleaded guilty to the charges, and was sentenced to thirty-five years in the Oquirrh section of Point of the Mountain. His attorney had attempted to negotiate for his being placed in the minimal security section of the prison, but his past robbery conviction had been a sticking point. Both he and his attorney wondered if the D.A.’s office would attempt to get him to sign some kind of gag-order, but this never happened, and it angered Sam. He wanted them to fear him, and to worry about what he might say. He knew that the D.A.’s office—and by extension the Church—was trying to brand him an untrustworthy firebug and a killer with a grudge against the Church.

“All things considered,” said his lawyer, “you’re getting off light. This has got to be about the plumiest deal I’ve ever seen in over twenty years practicing law.”

“Why not push for more, then?” said Sam.

“Because they’re not going to cave in any further.”

“I have nothing to lose, though.”

“Don’t you have a daughter?”

“Yeah.”

“And you’d still like to be able to visit and have a relationship with her one day? And didn’t your frictions with the Church result in you getting to see her a whole lot less?”

Sam didn’t say anything.

“Well, then, you see my point.”

“Sort of,” he said. “This guilty-plea thing is going to “F” me over no matter what.”

“It’s better than being locked up forever so that you don’t even have the possibility of seeing your daughter, isn’t it?”

Sam shook his head and the lawyer put a hand on his shoulder. It was the lawyer’s way of avoiding having to say, “This is the best I can do.” And later, Sam did eventually come around to thinking that he’d gotten the best deal possible. But he stewed over it for quite some time.

His sentence commenced, and he steeled himself once again for the vagaries of prison life. He sized up the various cliques, made it clear that he wasn’t to be messed with, and generally kept to himself. He got back into good shape with a regimen of running and weight-lifting, and he became a voracious reader, finding that he had a fondness for the Russian authors: Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Turgenev, Chekhov.

He had little contact with the outside world, though he did follow with some interest the news surrounding the passing of Alma Grange Baylor, and the ascension to the presidency of C. Rigdon Pitt. Occasionally he got mail, including two letters from Emily, who was either nice or filled with pity enough to send photos of Kaylee, who was getting taller every day, it seemed. Sam was amazed that Emily had written at all; he assumed that this would be yet another reason to stay away. At one point, Ray came to visit him, as did Don Smith, who told him that the groups’ meetings had been canceled indefinitely. There was a lack of leadership and organization, he said, which was exactly what the Church had wanted. Don was wistful about all of it, angered that Bennett’s plan had fallen through, and that they’d failed to escape with the documents. Naturally he wanted to know what secrets they’d uncovered in the vaults, but Sam had to tell him that he didn’t know—the journals had been illegible to him.

Then one day he was summoned from his cell with the news that he had a Special Visitor. The guard led him out of the cell and down the hallway, and rather than turning toward the Visitor’s Room, they went off to the right, into an unfamiliar area of the prison. He found himself in a long cinderblock hallway lined with heavy steel doors along one side, and he wondered if he was being placed into solitary confinement. The guard unlocked a room and had Sam sit down at a table that had a bar bolted onto its surface. He used a pair of handcuffs to chain Sam to the bar. On the left side of the room was a bank of mirrors, which meant that there was probably someone on the other side, watching them.

“What’s with all of this?” said Sam.

“Don’t ask me,” said the guard. “I only work here,” and he left the room.

It was entirely quiet in the room save for the electric humming of the fluorescent lights overhead. Several minutes went by and then Sam heard the heavy, metal sound of the lock being opened. The door swung wide, with one of the prison officials holding it open, and an elderly man strode in.

Sam recognized him immediately, though at the moment he couldn’t recall his name. The man was perhaps 75 years old, with thick white hair combed back, a well-tailored, dark-grey suit, and a kind, slightly ruddy face. He smiled at Sam as he came in, and then he turned back to the prison official and nodded and said, “I think we’ll be all right.”

“We’ll be keeping a close eye,” said the official, and the older man nodded again and turned back to Sam as the door shut behind him. “Hello there, Brother Younger,” he said. “Is it all right if I sit down?”

Sam remembered then: his name was Steele. Elder Steele. He was one of the Twelve Apostles. “Yeah, sure,” said Sam at last. “It’s a free country. At least, it is for you anyways.”

“Thank you,” said Elder Steele, and he pulled out the chair and sat down. The table was wide enough that there was a fair amount of separation between the two of them. Steele set his hands on the table and wove his fingers together. He smiled again. “I bet you’re wondering why I came to visit,” he said.

“You could say that,” said Sam.

“Well,” said Steele, “my sincere hope is that we can come to an understanding. I’m sure that you have some questions still lingering, and I have some questions of my own. So, hopefully we can have a mutually beneficial conversation. Does that sound all right to you?”

Sam stared back at him, hard. What did he want? It was just like with so many other Mormon men, Sam thought: it was impossible to tell whether he was being condescending, or whether he was genuinely concerned, friendly, and sincere.

“Look,” said Sam, “I don’t have anything else to do. If you want to talk, then talk. If not, I’ll go back to my bunk and take a nap.”

“You must be terribly angry,” said Steele. “I wish it weren’t so.”

“Do you?”

“Yes, I do,” he said.

“What is it that I’m angry about? Since you seem to know so much about me.”

“You’re angry at the Church. Aren’t you?”

“I dunno. You tell me. Use your priesthood and figure it out.”

Steele smiled weakly and stared at him. “I’m sorry,” he said after a while.

“Sorry for what?”

“I’m sorry that you’re angry, and I’m sorry for whatever it is that happened to you. What you have to understand, though, is that the Church isn’t at fault here.”

“B.S.,” said Sam. “That is complete and utter B.S..” The profanity seemed to sting Elder Steele slightly.

“May I ask how?” said Steele.

“I think you goddamn perfectly well know how,” said Sam. He leaned forward, and using his index finger to tap on the table as a means of punctuation and emphasis, he went on: “I lost my marriage. I don’t get to see my daughter. I lost some of my friends. I flushed God-knows-how-much money down the toilet. And I’m here, locked up in this fuckin’ cage. You can give me your usual spiel about free agency, about how I made my own choices, and so on. I don’t care. The fact is that the Church lies to people and makes the kinds of ridiculous demands that “F” people over. I wouldn’t be sitting here, in this position, if it hadn’t been for the LDS Church. I wish those damned missionaries had never knocked on my door.”

Steele sat there, breathing evenly, taking it all in, shutting his eyes and nodding occasionally. When Sam had finished, he shook his head and said, “I am so sorry for all the suffering you’ve endured. Truly I am.”

“Yeah, I bet you are,” said Sam. “’the Church isn’t at fault.’ What a crock of crap! You’re here to cover your ass and to reassure yourself that you’ve made the right decisions.”

Elder Steele held up his hand: “I think we got off on the wrong foot,” he said. “I really do want to make peace and to mend all the old wounds.”

“What does that even mean? You’re sorry that the Church has been lying to people?”

He tilted his head to the side: “It disappoints me very much that people feel deceived by the Church. What you have to understand is that there is only so much we can do. As leaders of the Church we have a responsibility to uphold and affirm faith. You can understand that, can’t you?”

“Sure I can,” said Sam. “But you can’t justify affirmation of faith built on lies.”

“The Church is not built on lies, Brother Younger. I will testify to you here and now—”

A tremor came into his voice and Sam immediately cut him off: “Stop,” he said. “Save it. I have zero interest in listening to you bear your testimony.”

Steele pushed away from the table slightly, so that his face was no longer in the light. He didn’t say anything, and Sam could sense in him a change of some kind, like he was shedding the last skins of his various Mormon routines and defense mechanisms.

“Why do you want to destroy the Church?” he said finally. His voice was low and quiet. It was, Sam thought, the first sincere thing he’d said.

“I wasn’t the one in charge,” Sam said.

“That wasn’t what I asked you.”

“That’s true,” said Sam, and he looked away, and then he looked up into the corner of the room, searching for an answer. “Do I want to destroy the Church?” he said. “I don’t know that I do,” he said. “I don’t know that I ever did. What I wanted was for the Church to take responsibility, to show humility. I don’t know. Something like that.”

“Is that why you broke into the vault? You wanted to humiliate the Church?”

Again Sam cast his eyes upwards, thinking. “That’s not quite it,” he said. “It was never really about actually hurting the Church. It was just about the truth. About making sure that people knew the truth, so that they wouldn’t wind up getting betrayed by the Church.” Even as he said this, though, he questioned its validity. He realized that he wasn’t entirely sure why he’d gone along with Bennett’s plans. Did he want to actually destroy the LDS Church—to wipe it out of existence? He knew that a part of him really did hate the Church that much, but his feelings were more complicated than that. He couldn't articulate quite what he meant, but he wondered if his hatred for the Church was in part a hatred of himself—a hate for the part of himself that had been taken in by it all. Or was it that he hated the fact that the intangible things he had loved about the Church had been taken from him? What he could never tell Steele about was the sense of helplessness he’d felt in the face of his departure from the Church. His life had collapsed all around him, and behind it all sat the great, silent white monolith of Mormonism, completely unassailable and yet lording over the whole crushing disaster.

Steele was speaking again: “What can we do?” he said. “I know you’re not alone,” he said. “The truth is that I know, as do all of the Brethren, that there are a great many people who are angry with the Church.” He leaned forward into the light again; a bit of his hair had fallen out of place. “I need to know how to reach out to them. How to help ease their anger.”

Sam looked at him. Elder Steele looked somewhat shaken, somewhat stricken, and for the first time, Sam felt bad for him. He shook his head: “I don’t have an answer for you, Apostle Steele.” He shifted in his seat and the handcuff clanked against the metal bar. “The Church doesn’t bend to anything. You guys won’t change. Everything’s entrenched. You think you’re right and won’t listen to criticism.”

“Then why am I here?” said Steele.

“I honestly don’t know,” said Sam. “Do you?”

He scooted forward. “Yes,” he said. “Yes, I think so.” It didn’t at all seem like he was certain. “I’m here to try and mend our differences, and to learn how to heal the wounds that have been dealt.”

“I guess the problem with that,” said Sam, “is that you can’t apologize on behalf of the Church. There will still be an out. Unless there is some official statement from the First Presidency, signed and delivered up for approval at General Conference, then your apologies, however sincere you might claim they are, don’t add up to much of anything. They aren't official. They aren't real.”

Steele nodded. “There are differences among the Brethren. We try to come to agreement on all things, but that simply isn’t the case all the time. Most of the time it is, but we’re human. The Brethren are fallible.”

He seemed almost to be thinking out loud.

“There are those of us who fear for the future of the Church. Who worry about attacks from our enemies, and there have been times when some of the Brethren have over-reacted.” He looked squarely at Sam: “I think you know of what I speak.”

Sam nodded, which seemed to reassure Steele.

“What I need you to know is that this was not authorized by the Brethren. It was not presented to the council for approval. It was the result of actions that can only be described as… Rash.”

“You’re talking about—”

Steele held up his hand and made an abrupt “shhh”ing sound. “We both know of what I speak,” he said. “There is no need to give it any more life in the form of speech. I brought it up only as a means of acknowledging to you that I know. I know. I was not responsible, and neither were the majority of the Brethren.”

“Who was responsible? Who gave the orders?”

Steele was stone-faced.

“It was Pitt, wasn’t it? Why not just tell the truth?” said Sam.
Elder Steele sniffed and scooted back in his chair slightly and it seemed that he was preparing to leave. He looked up. “I believe that things are changing in the Church, Brother Younger,” he said. “I don’t think I need to tell you that I affirm President Pitt’s calling as prophet, seer, and revelator, and that I believe he holds the sacred keys necessary to carry us into the twenty-first century.” He paused, and then he stood up and extended his hand. “What I’m saying is that you will always be welcomed back at Church. You would have to go through the proper steps of repentance, of course. But I will personally see to it that your blessings and ordinances are restored to you in full. I would only ask that you pray on it,” he said.

Sam’s right hand was handcuffed to the table, and so he had to awkwardly shake Steele’s hand with his left. He didn’t say anything in response to what the apostle had said.

“You will be in my prayers,” said Elder Steele.

“That’s not necessary,” said Sam. “But thanks for coming to see me.”

“You’re welcome.”

He turned and went to the door and rapped on it with his knuckles and it was opened immediately. The prison official led him away and then the guard came in to undo the handcuff that was clasped to the bar. Finally it was clear to Sam: Steele had come to apologize.

In the days and weeks that followed, this would come to mean more to Sam than he ever would have imagined. Although his anger at the Church did not immediately diminish, he found himself wondering for a very long time about what had prompted Steele’s visit. Why would an apostle reach out to someone who’d done what Sam did? Self-justification and reassurance wasn’t enough of an explanation; there had been more to what Steele had said, and in the ways he’d reacted. In the end, Sam came to the conclusion that Steele was simply a very sincere man who loved the Church perhaps as much as Sam, Bennett, and the others hated it. The key difference is that Steele was looking to resolve the conflict, whereas men like Pitt and Bennett saw warfare as the only option.

Something else was apparent to Sam, too—namely that there were a number of things beyond the Brethren’s control. He wondered if it was accurate to say that the Church itself, as an institution or an entity, operated partly of its own accord, like some giant beast in the darkness. Perhaps the Brethren were as powerless to change the Church as Bennett and the apostates had been. Then again, Steele had testified that the Church was changing, and that things would one day be different. What did he mean by that? It was, as always, marred by shadows and secrecy. By vagueness. They were all just human beings—prophets and apostates alike—helpless and blind in the fog while the slow, unseen wheels of time carried them toward an unseen end.



...Next time: The grey and cloudless sky...
_Maksutov
_Emeritus
Posts: 12480
Joined: Thu Mar 07, 2013 8:19 pm

Re: A Great and Dreadful Day, Part 7: Twilight of the Prophe

Post by _Maksutov »

Fascinating story!
"God" is the original deus ex machina. --Maksutov
_Bob Bobberson
_Emeritus
Posts: 110
Joined: Thu Apr 14, 2011 6:39 pm

Re: A Great and Dreadful Day, Part 7: Twilight of the Prophe

Post by _Bob Bobberson »

- SIXTY-THREE -



It wasn’t long after Elder Steele’s visit that Sam found himself lying in his prison bunk at night yet again, playing the same scene over and over in his mind. He saw Bennett through the tongues of flame, locked in a struggle with another man who may as well have been Bennett’s identical twin. Or had it only looked that way? He thought back to the things he’d seen and heard in F Vault: he tried to remember everything Bennett had said and done. He remembered the taste of the cold mountain water, and how Bennett had told him that it was rumored to give you eternal life. He remembered how he felt like he was being watched.

Who was the man that Bennett had been fighting with? Had he been in the vaults, waiting for them? Someone had shot Arnold. Was this simply a guard? Or was this the man who came after Bennett? Sam mentally traced and re-traced his steps again and again, until he began to wonder if he was remembering things correctly. He began to think, after a certain point, that he’d imagined it all—that he was in prison for reasons that had been conjured up entirely in his head.

Then, a few days later, he got the letter. When the delivery person handed him the envelope, he knew immediately, without even looking at it, that it was from Bennett. He could practically feel the psychic imprint on the paper. The return address indicated that it was from Armando Benet of Merida, Mexico. When Sam opened it up and removed the letter from the envelope, he could tell instantly that it wasn’t a typical message. There was no writing on it: instead, it was just a card, with an image of the all-seeing eye. It was Bennett’s calling card, and it was the same image that Sam had seen on the talisman that he took from F Vault.

“The “F” is that?” his cellmate had said.

“Beats the hell out of me.” And he crumpled it up and threw it in the trash basket. Later, when everyone was asleep, he retrieved it and unfolded it and smoothed it out, and then he stashed it away in one of his books.

He couldn’t know whether Bennett himself had sent the letter, or whether someone else had sent it on Bennett’s behalf, or whether this was just a case of the Church screwing with him. They had, of course, found the medallion on his person, so they would know that he’d recognize the symbol. Maybe they were mailing him this letter as a means of getting him to cough up more information? Or maybe it had been sent by family members of the two Church Security men who’d been killed, as a means of revenge—as a kind of epistolary taunt? Or, instead, was this connected to the visit from Steele? He couldn’t help but feel that he was overlooking something crucial.

Sam’s thinking always trailed off on tangents like this. In the cold and tight isolation of the prison, every paranoid thing seemed like a legitimate possibility, and so he did his best to pass the time by paying attention to the routines that had set in, like at mealtimes: Salisbury steak on Mondays; shepherd’s pie on Wednesdays. Eventually, the monotony and paranoia would give way to numbness.

Just as with the last time he’d been incarcerated, he was struck by how distant and peculiar the outside world seemed. From the inside, he could only ever approximate what it was like. Sure, he’d been out here, but it was just a memory. It was something that had been taken away, and regardless of how capacious his mind was—regardless of his imagination—he could never fully approximate the sensation of being free. It was a strange, unaccountable sensation, almost like being paralyzed.

Another week went by, and Sam was let out into the yard to exercise, and he settled into his routine. It was a cold, bleak, gray February day. The prisoners mulled about the yard, batting the breeze, smoking cigarettes, lifting weights, and mumbling about the crappy cafeteria food. They talked about visitors who’d been by to visit, about letters they’d received. Meanwhile, Sam, along with a few other inmates, jogged around the perimeter of the yard at a steady pace. He’d come to love the feel of his lungs filling and expelling the cold, dry Utah air, the rhythmic motion of his legs carrying him across the yard, and the heaviness of his footfalls. Up in the watchtower, the guard was reading something, and overhead, a V of birds was flying eastwards. The tips of the mountains were clearly visible over the prison walls.

Sam had run 8 circuits around the yard—a distance which he guessed was around 3 miles—when he heard someone calling his name:

“Hey, Younger! Aren’t you Younger? Hold up a second.”

He was irritated at being stopped.

“I gotta ask you something. Could you hold up a second?”

Sam slowed down, still breathing hard, feeling his heart throbbing in his chest, and turned to look. “Yeah? What do you want?”

The man was short—maybe five-foot-six—and lean, with a bald head, and he had a harelip. He had a blank and distant look in his eye, like he was distracted, or like he was trying to hold two contradictory ideas in his mind at the same time. “Well, I’m sorry to interrupt your workout and all, but I got a message for you.” His eyes darted to the side.

Sam waited for the reply, and the man seemed to be fumbling with something in his pocket, and then he quickly nodded his head twice. “What I want to tell you,” he said, “is that Bennett wishes you a safe journey.”

It was then that he realized he’d let his guard down, but it was too late. Before he knew it, a meaty arm was curled around his throat, and he felt the first stab wound rip into his lower back, where it punctured his renal artery. Again and again he was stabbed: four times in the back, and then twice in the throat, and then, as he turned, flailing, trying to fend off the attack, he was stabbed in his hands, and then in his chest and stomach.

Because he’d been running, his heart rate was up, and he bled out quickly. After he fell to the ground, he reached up, trying to hold the blood in, but it flowed past his slick fingers, hot and dark and red, pulsing from the wounds in his neck and chest in angry gouts, and he collapsed on the ground. Before he passed out, he was able to see that it had actually been two men who’d stabbed him, and that they’d used filed-down toothbrushes to do it. For hours, they’d rubbed the plastic handle of their toothbrushes against the stone floors of their cells, until they’d formed spike-like points. One of these blood-caked toothbrushes wasn’t but two feet from Sam’s face as he lay there dying.

He heard screaming and shouting and was aware of a commotion around him. Someone said, “We need a fuckin’ doctor pronto! You seen them guys who did this?” and someone else replied, “Ain’t nothing no motherfucking doctor can do for that.”

Sam didn’t feel any pain after a while, and then he was aware of a rushing sound in his ears. His left arm was flung across his chest, limply trying to staunch the bloodflow. He was staring up into a gray and cloudless sky, his breath gone shallow, gurgling wetly in his throat, and then he closed his eyes and died.


...Next time: The story ends....
_Bob Bobberson
_Emeritus
Posts: 110
Joined: Thu Apr 14, 2011 6:39 pm

Re: A Great and Dreadful Day, Part 7: Twilight of the Prophe

Post by _Bob Bobberson »

- SIXTY-FOUR -

When President C. Rigdon Pitt passed away in June of 2005, he died quietly in his sleep, of natural causes, though his health had been in steady decline for the past two years. In his talk at the October 2004 General Conference, he reflected on all the years he’d devoted in service to the Lord, and many of the saints interpreted this as a kind of “farewell” speech. President Pitt still managed to speak at the April 2003 General Conference, though he was quite weak by then.
On the Thursday after his death, the Brethren convened in the temple to lay hands upon Talmadge Banner Steele, and they ordained him to the office of President. Elders Dellinger and Kleinhoffer were appointed First and Second Counselor in the new First Presidency.

President Pitt’s administration had been characterized by a rapid increase in the building of temples. At the time of President Baylor’s death in 1995, there were less than 50 temples in operation; when President Pitt passed away ten years later, there were over 100. This was done in part to help ease congestion, and to make it easier for the Church’s increasingly far-flung membership to go through the endowment ceremony. But it was also done as a means of helping to fulfill the Prophet Joseph Smith’s predictions about temples covering the globe.

Meanwhile, reports on membership statistics in the latter half of the 1990s began to trickle in from the Church Office building, and the news wasn’t good. Mahonri Young’s office was seeing a somewhat alarming increase in the number of letters requesting that names be removed from the Church’s records, which was in essence a resignation of their church membership. In other words, people were beginning to leave the LDS Church at a faster rate. And it wasn’t just that: there was evidence that new converts were going inactive at a faster rate as well. Even though the missionaries were effectively baptizing new members, the Church was having a difficult time retaining them.

These were but some of the issues that concerned Steele as he ascended to the Church presidency in the early years of the 21st century. In those initial days, he prayed fervently to the Lord, asking for guidance and direction. He prayed that Heavenly Father might soften the hearts of those who had been hurt or offended in any way by either the Church or its members. He was always met with silence, and he was plagued with uncertainty. It wasn’t that he doubted the truthfulness of the Church; it was that he had come to doubt his own abilities to lead the Church. He never told anyone of his feelings, though—not even his wife.

Not that this mattered much in practical terms; he scarcely had time to breathe, let alone to dwell on his spiritual misgivings. So much of his time was taken up with administrative and bureaucratic duties: signing documents, attending meetings, dedicating temples, giving blessings, and so on. Though he’d been terribly busy as an apostle, it just didn’t compare to the kinds of demands that were now being placed on him as prophet.

Amidst all of this, he grew older. As he entered his nineties, his body began to fail. His joints froze up and his hair thinned. New lines and creases appeared in his face, and he often found himself asking his conversation partners to repeat themselves. He still had his eyesight, though. Apart from a slight decrease in the acuity of his night vision, his eyes still worked as well as they always had.

There were things he loved about being Church President. He never ceased to be amazed at the humble faith of the Latter-day Saints. He loved the way they devoted themselves to the Church, the sincere questions they had, and their love of the gospel. Steele always looked forward to General Conference, to his biannual opportunity to reach all of the Saints worldwide, simultaneously. He was grateful for the opportunity to share his testimony with them.

On the whole, though, Steele feared that the Church had begun to drift too far away from its revelatory roots. It was improper, he thought, to beg the Lord for new revelation. It was presumptuous. The Lord would reveal everything in due time, and yet, amidst all the meetings and bureaucratic responsibilities, Steele found himself wondering what space was left for spiritual inquiry and reflection. The Church was being overwhelmed by its own massive bureaucracy; it was beginning to seem ever more like a corporation. He prayed at least three times every day, but apart from that, so very little of his day-to-day life was devoted to strictly spiritual matters, and this concerned him greatly. The prophet, he thought, should function as a vehicle that helps to bring the Saints closer to their Father in Heaven, and he feared that he was failing them in this regard.

On his worst days, Steele worried about the Church’s very survival. Towards the end of his presidency, the office of membership records began to issue warnings that young people in the Church were going inactive in greater and greater numbers. These youth were the future of the Church, and if they couldn’t be persuaded to stay, what chance would the Church have?

Steele knew in his bones that the Church was a force for good, and that it offered spiritual nourishment to those who were willing to commit themselves to the teachings of the prophets. The problem was that it was so difficult to adapt—or rather, that it was so difficult to convey how the ancient principles of the Church were applicable and valid in a world that was so committed to the present, to the fleeting moment: a world filled with the temptations of television, movies, sex, and so on. Steele saw signs everywhere that so many people in the United States lived lonely and unfulfilling lives—that they went through life begging for greater significance and meaning—and he knew that the Church could help these people to find solace, but how to bring it to them? How to convince them? Ultimately, everything rested on Moroni’s promise, and on the individual making the effort to feel a connection with God. But this couldn’t be forced. In the past, so much emphasis had been placed on obedience, and to following the Brethren’s advice, but now Steele worried if this had been misguided. The Church ought to help people along the road to salvation; it should never force them.

In spite of this, Steele never ceased to find hope in the world. He never failed to find profound reasons to believe that the Lord was watching over everything. He always paused to take note of the clear blue of the sky, or the newly bloomed crocus beneath the window. He marveled at the way the clean, crisp autumn air felt in his lungs, and he was grateful that the Lord had given him and everyone else a means of reclaiming his body in the next life. He loved the warmth of the sun on his face, and the feel of his wife’s hand in his own. These were small things that had been made grand and spectacular by their connection to God. As he grew old, as he neared his last end, he felt thankful for all of this, and he began more and more to relish the thought of moving beyond the veil.

But, of course, he was often interrupted as he thought of these things, summoned away, as he always was, by the duties of his calling.
_Bob Bobberson
_Emeritus
Posts: 110
Joined: Thu Apr 14, 2011 6:39 pm

Re: A Great and Dreadful Day, Part 7: Twilight of the Prophe

Post by _Bob Bobberson »

- SIXTY-FIVE -

I had a dream that I saw Samuel Younger several months ago. In the dream, I began to hear rumors that he was out of jail, and that he’d been hanging around Salt Lake City, and I was able to speak with him briefly. It was Christmastime, and I bumped into him at Trolley Square. I was doing some shopping and was planning to head over to Temple Square afterwards in order to look at the lights.

He seemed to be doing well. He looked healthy, and he told me that he was thinking of going back to school to earn his degree. He said that he’d tried his best to make amends with Emily, but of course it didn’t work out. It was an ongoing struggle just for him to see his daughter. He said that he briefly dated some ex-Mormon girl, though they hardly ever talked about Mormonism anymore, he said. He’d just kind of moved beyond most of that stuff, apparently, though he didn’t begrudge anyone else their own feelings on the subject. Regardless, it seemed that he’d still been trying to work out some arrangement that allowed him to see Kaylee more than once a month.

I tried to get him to talk a little bit more about the Church, and what he’d done to move past all of it, but he didn’t really seem to want to talk about it. I asked him if he really was “past” all of it, and he shook his head. “It’s something that always stays with you,” he said. “You can try and fight it, which I did for a while, and which I don’t recommend. Or you can just accept that it’s this part of you, which is what I’ve ultimately decided to do.”

I was glad to hear him say that. Though I didn’t ask him about it, my feeling is that Mormonism, at this point, is more than just the institutional Church. It’s a people and a culture. A language; a feeling. A way of life, to some extent, and a means of connection and communion. Some people would say that it’s an ethnicity, though that’s not quite it, in my opinion.

As Sam was about to leave, I asked him if he’d ever learned what happened to Bennett, but he said he didn’t know, and a troubled look came over his face. Then he told me something strange. He said that while he’d been in prison, he’d gotten a letter with no return address. Inside it was a card with an eye printed on it, and hovering over the eye was a halo and a crown. I asked him if he thought that the letter was from Bennett, and he just smiled and shrugged his shoulders. “I’ve accepted the fact that I don’t have all the answers,” he said.

That was the last I saw of him. I stood there at the corner and watched him walk off into the night. By that time it had begun to snow, and I still wanted to get over to see the lights, so I turned and left and walked to Temple Square.

Have you ever seen the Christmas lights at Temple Square? They’re not like anything I’ve ever experienced anywhere else. They’ve got them strung through all the denuded trees, and across all the gates and everything, and looming up above the whole scene is the illuminated temple itself, looking almost like a castle. Even in the dark you can see the gold statue of Moroni, silently trumpeting his message out into the night.

I stood there looking up at it for a while, and then I walked around the grounds. The snow was falling more and more, and as I neared the tabernacle I could hear the muffled noise of the choir. I believe there was a concert of Christmas songs that night, though I can’t remember what songs they were singing.

I just remember how overwhelmed I felt by all of it—at the snowflakes falling languidly amidst the lights strung through the trees, and this feeling overtook me, and I felt overjoyed and horribly sad all at once. Tears began to roll down my cheeks and yet I gasped and felt like laughing with joyousness. It was just so beautiful. I don’t know if anyone saw me standing there like that. If anyone had, I wonder what they would have thought. That I was crazy, I suppose. But that moment—that feeling. I don’t know that I’ve experienced anything like it before or since. That’s what stays in my memory the most, though: the sound of the choir, which sounded so old and sad, like something ancient moving right through you—like the voices of the dead who surface in your dreams.





THE END.
Post Reply