I Grew Up Believing in a False Prophet
I never felt quite like my family and I belonged in our Mormon community until we met a man who claimed he was ushering in the end of the world, and that we could help him.
Once a month, members were invited to bear their testimonies in church, which meant going up to the microphone and sharing declarations of their faith. Good members would do this regularly, often crying when they spoke, overcome by the presence of the Holy Ghost. My parents always encouraged me and my brothers to go up. I was terrified. I couldn't think of anything original to say, and I never cried, but it was expected so I did it.
As I got older, I started to wonder: Why can't I cry? Why don't I feel anything? I remember trying desperately to produce emotion as I watched my peers become overwhelmed with feeling during church camp. I willed tears to come out of my eyes. And for a moment, I thought I felt something—but it quickly dissolved, out of my grasp.
I believed that the church was true, but I didn't feel what everyone else felt. I wanted to dress fabulously, not modestly. I wanted to hang out with boys and talk about boobs. Other parents considered me a bad influence on their kids, sometimes even excluding me from gatherings. And my mom was beautiful, vibrant, and ambitious, so she didn't exactly fit in to the Midwestern LDS culture either.
My parents got divorced and my mom fell in love with a non-member, who she eventually slept with. Riddled with guilt, she confessed immediately, but the priesthood had her excommunicated anyway, as premarital sex is considered the worst sin you can commit next to murder. For three years she was not allowed to participate or speak in church—she essentially wore a big scarlet letter on her chest. Fitting in was harder for all of us after that.
When the humiliation of the repentance process was over, we moved to Utah. We'd been performing as ventriloquists together and I'd been writing songs; this was our shot at a new life.
Then we met Adam.
My mom and Adam (I've changed his name) met at an LDS singles' dance. He looked strikingly similar to someone from a dream she'd had years before, she said. In Mormonism, it's common to pray for and look for signs from God, so when she met this man she'd dreamed about after all that hard repentance work—a man who had something magnetic about him, something special—it seemed clear that it meant something. It had to be a sign.
My mother is one of the smartest people I've ever met. She's brilliant, funny, and incredibly loving. But she has trust issues. Not the kind where you don't trust people—that's my thing. My mom can't help but trust everyone. Since faith takes precedence over facts in Mormonism, and trusting the prophet is imperative, it's already conducive to a certain kind of blindness. By the time she met Adam, her judgment was considerably clouded.
The church believes that Joseph Smith used magic stones to translate the Book of Mormon from ancient golden plates which were given to him by an angel. As the story goes, one section of that book—known as the Sealed Portion—contained profound revelations and was hidden from the world, to resurface in the last days. And that's tricky. Because if one dude can show up out of nowhere and become a prophet by translating mysterious scripture that nobody really gets to see, why can't some other dude show up with the Sealed Portion?
Adam was open about the fact that he was a former polygamist who'd once convinced his community that he was a prophet. Now he was a single man who frequented Mormon dances. Then he met my mom. They started spending time together, and with the help of others who claimed to be believers, he began convincing her that the Sealed Portion had been revealed to him to translate, thus ushering in the end of days. He had samples. He claimed the church knew. Eventually, he succeeded in making her believe that he was the new, true prophet of God.
I remember feeling uneasy about him at first. By that point I was all too familiar with the range of evil and extraordinary men who were drawn to my mother's trusting nature. There was a constant stream of stalkers, scholars, and sociopaths trying to fight their way into her life. So when Adam came along, I was wary. But I was still only 12. He won my heart by complimenting my singing and buying me things like Gushers and Doritos. Snacks were a big deal in our household.
I ended up believing in him entirely by accident. I was looking through my mom's computer when I found some emails he'd sent her: He told her she was chosen by God to do his work in these end times. End times—as in the second coming of Christ. As I read on, it dawned on me: Adam was a prophet.
And finally, after feeling so little for so long, I was moved to tears. It suddenly made sense. Of course I had never fit in—because my family was special, destined for something great. The church had made me feel unfit, unimportant. But this was important.
I told my mom what I'd seen. She explained everything, and for a little while, it was bliss. At Adam's direction, I started building an Angelfire website for a foundation he was creating to help the needy as a part of God's plan. I caught glimpses of the Sealed Portion on the computer. And best of all, he told my mom that her greatest purpose in life was her kids. Specifically, me. I was going to change the world, he said. When she relayed this to me, I thought I'd burst with pride.
He began having revelations. First, my mom was to become his spiritual wife (read: sex). Then we needed to sell our extra possessions and give the money to the poor via the foundation. We had a big yard sale; she sold the wedding dress she'd been saving for when she got remarried.
The next revelation said my brothers and I couldn't live with our mom anymore, because her mission was too dangerous. Rather than go to my dad's house in California, I stayed with my friend Sean's family for a while to be near my mom. I have warm memories from my time there: I played video games, watched UHF for the first time, and wrote essays about Weird Al. For the most part, it was life as usual.
Except that I was harboring this massive secret. I was pretending everything was normal, all the while believing that I had been chosen by God. I snuck downstairs at night to talk to my mom on the phone in hushed tones when Sean's family was asleep. I took it very seriously—and whenever I'd feel left out or alone, I'd console myself with the idea of, "Oh yeah, well just you wait... we're bringing about the Second Coming."
I knelt down to pray one day at Sean's house. "Dear Heavenly Father, I'm thankful for this day," I started as usual. "I know that Adam is a true proph—" I began to say, and I stopped. I'd gotten this strange little nagging feeling. I couldn't finish the sentence.
I missed my mom. I knew huge sacrifices in this life were important to reach salvation in the next, but I'd begun to worry about her. She seemed sad.
My brother and I went to visit her in the place Adam had assigned her to live. It was a single room in a dark, depressing resident hotel. The bathrooms were in the hallways, and the hallways were filled with ex-cons. That night, one admirer stood yelling outside the building, throwing pennies at her window until he got inside. He pounded violently on the door and screamed threats as we held each other until the police came. That was her life, and she was alone. I was scared for her.
I didn't know yet, but Adam had had another revelation. He'd been sending men to have sex with her. She had pleaded with him to change his mind, but he'd insisted it was a test she had to pass. Submit to these men, he threatened, or be separated from your family for eternity. When she tried to find ways around it, an abusive pimp took over and forced her. My mom wasn't just sad. She was suicidal.
Finally, one of Adam's men came to do the deed with her and broke down crying. The man was shaken by the reality of her living conditions and, having participated in the deceit, confessed that it had all been made up. He moved her out of there that night.
It all came crashing down. Adam was not a prophet. The foundation bank account, where my mother's money had been going, actually belonged to Adam's girlfriend and new "first wife," who had participated in the hoax.
My mom and I sat on the hill outside Sean's house when she came to tell me the truth. She was in tears. Suddenly, I didn't care about being special anymore. I just wanted her to be OK.
And she was—we were. She went to therapy; she's getting her PhD in media psychology now and she's an activist working against human trafficking. She still sees the best in people, somehow. I dealt with it through music and songwriting, my own version of feeling the spirit. Adam went off the radar for a while, but later reemerged with the completed Sealed Portion. He would go on to attract many more followers.
We're not Mormon anymore, and we might not be chosen by God. But damnit, we're together, and I still think we're special.
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