Standing Outside the Temple

My grandparents on both sides of my family lived in Bountiful, or about 30 minutes from our home in Ogden, Utah. We visited them often. My grandpa Tingey was the first person I knew who owned an Atari 2600, and I spent many hours sitting on my knees at a wobbly card table playing Asteroids, Combat and Blackjack.

While the Tingeys were Mormon, my father’s parents were not, and I understood this at an early age, because they committed a major sin: they drank coffee! I loved to smell the coffee as I entered their home, but was reminded how breaking God’s health law could have a lasting impact on my body and soul.

Tingeys would attend special church milestones such as baptisms and confirmations. When I turned 12-years old and was ordained a deacon, the Tingeys gave me a leather-bound bible for my birthday and a matching Book of Mormon for Christmas. My grandmother took the time to write a note on the first page of each book stating how much she loved me and how she hoped I’d get closer to Christ by reading each book. She was a loving grandmother who made me feel like I was the most important person in the world when we sat around her dining table eating Snelgrove’s ice cream.

While we spent more time at Tingeys, we also visited my other set of grandparents; the Nordquists. They lived in a humble brick home not far from Bountiful High School that had a steep driveway to the side of their home. When my father would park the car, I’d open the door and race up the stairs to ring the doorbell. My grandma would always open the door, and then call to my grandfather, who was often watching 60 Minutes or All in the Family in their dark basement. My grandma Nordquist was an amazing cook, and if we were lucky, she’d make roast beef with mashed potatoes with gravy. They also kept Coke in bottles in the basement. That might not seem like a big deal to most, but some Mormons in the 70s and 80s believed that beverages with caffeine were against the Word of Wisdom. My parents didn’t purchase Coke and neither did the Tingeys so getting a cold bottle of Coke was a real treat!

My grandparents have passed away, but I think of them often. And lately I’ve been thinking about how I treated my grandpa and grandma Nordquist.

I loved them very much, but I also felt sorry for them because they were not members of my church. At times I felt superior to them, although I wouldn’t have admitted it at the time. While I was attending the University of Utah, I often visited them. One time I stopped by after school and we talked about religion for a couple of hours. They both expressed to me how they felt excluded from activities and discussions because they were not Mormon. I went home that evening bothered by what I’d heard because I felt I’d talked to them openly about my mission to Germany and other aspects of my life. I wish I had opened up to them about my questions surrounding polygamy and some aspects of LDS church history that bothered me. I wish I had found the CESLetter in my 20s instead of in my 40s.

Looking back to that time, I can understand how they would feel excluded. My three sisters and brother were all married in LDS temples which means the Tingeys were able to witness and experience each marriage as it took place inside the temple. But the Nordquists could not and were left to stand outside the temple and wait for the ceremony to end before joining up for family pictures.

At the time I was married, I didn’t think about it. I felt superior and blamed my grandparents for not putting themselves in a position to witness our marriage in person. I’m embarrassed to admit I used to think this way.

Now that I no longer believe in the primary truth claims of the Mormon church, I wish I could apologize to my grandparents. I left the church after they passed away, and I wish I could speak to them today and tell them how much I admire them for standing by their convictions while raising children in Utah where the pressure to convert can be immense.

For so many years, I felt I had found the truth and was better off for it. I had been raised in a church that teaches its members they belong to the only true church in the world. Other churches might possess bits and piece of truth, but Mormons believe they have ALL THE TRUTH. That doesn’t leave a lot of room for alternative ideas about religion.

Today I realize my grandparents were many years ahead of me in recognizing no one church holds all the truth or recipe for happiness.

I take some solace knowing I carry on a part of them as I raise my children to be critical thinkers and be leery of anyone who claims to speak for God.

4 thoughts on “Standing Outside the Temple

  1. My dad wasn’t able to attend my temple marriage. He had resigned from the church, and my indoctrination led me to assume that it was for one of those cliche reasons (sin, offense, evil influences, etc.). What kills me even now is that I never made any effort to truly understand where he was coming from. I lacked true empathy, and was incredibly close-minded. In my vast ignorance and arrogance I thought that he was crazy and making a huge mistake. My mind was entirely closed off to the possibility that there could be problems with the LDS worldview, that maybe perhaps my dad had valid reasons, and in fact I would willfully ignore and mentally shut down and subdue anything, even from absolutely credible sources, that could in any way threaten my worldview. It wasn’t until years later that I began to discover those problems, an endless parade of such. There wasn’t much that I had been taught in Sunday school that jived with reality/facts/history.

    I wish I had learned, earlier, to be open-minded enough to allow for the possibility that I could be wrong. Because that’s pretty much the perpetual human condition. We’re all so limited that we’re virtually guaranteed to be wrong (in varying degrees) about most everything.

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  2. Brett, Nate,

    Well written, and as we all age and mature “just a little bit”, we cannot beat ourselves up about all the things that we have done in the past. I am sure that both your grandparents and your dad knew that much of the issue came of culture and ingrained learning, and that neither of you were at true fault.

    Regardless of where you live, and if there is a predominant religion or set of religions, people find ways to divide instead of unite. The problem that I felt growing up was that we were excluded, and that many of the members felt or acted superior to us as human beings. Then I listened to some of the things they said, and realized that was certainly not the case.

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  3. Brett,
    Your post really touched me. I think we have all viewed ourselves as superior at one time or another only to find out later that we were only different. For me, the real lesson is to take the time to figure out why we are different and enjoy those differences because there is always more to learn. Also, like Brett Dean said, we also need to forgive ourselves for needing time to learn life’s lessons.

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  4. I think Mormonism,at least in Utah, is a little different from other religions in the US in that it is so prominent that it eclipses the other religions. Also the exclusive, and secretive aspect of it, gives the adherents the idea that they have some special knowledge that other religions don’t. I don’t know of another branch of Christianity, for example, that excludes other Christians from religious services like Mormonism does. The only other example, I can think of, is that non-Muslims cannot go to Mecca. They can, however, go to other mosques.
    I had many conversations with your grandparents, Brett, and I know they did feel excluded but so did all the other non-Mormons I met in Utah.

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