I was raised with no religious belief system, although I had learned there was a God and was given a KJV Bible for Christmas 1959 when I was 7. For a short time while I was elementary-aged, my mother sent us to Vacation Bible School, so I did learn some Bible stories, and the public schools back then still did Christmas programs. So I learned about some guy named Jesus who was born to a virgin (whatever that was) and as he got old he carried around a lamb. Some guy named Noah had a big boat full of animals and some guy named Jonah got swallowed by a whale. Stuff like that. The last time I saw a church I was about 11. Then my parents divorced. My mom got the 3 girls, my dad got us two boys. So that was the end of my religious experience.
My Dad met a Mormon lady when we moved to Colorado and she led him to join the Mormon church. At that time I was 12, so I had no idea what it was except that my Dad talked about going to church. Although he took my brother once or twice (if I remember right), he never took me to church, nor did he talk about what they taught or did there.
Because we moved from place to place and ended up in housing projects, where we were the only "Anglos" in a Mexican environment and so got ganged up on and beat up regularly, I often wondered if there was such a thing as God.
When I was in my 11th year of school (16 years old) I read a new book by Erich Von Daniken titled, "Chariots of the Gods." I sat with my KJV Bible and began looking at it - as revealed to me in that book. I accepted everything Von Daniken said (I had been a dedicated Sci-Fi fan for years) as the true interpretation of the Bible: God was a spaceman. This was my theology when I entered the Army at 18 years old in June of 1970.
During September 1970 I began training to be a Combat Engineer at Ft. Leonard Wood, Mo. I saw one of my platoon members, Ralph Bennett, taking a shower wearing funny-looking underwear, so I asked him about it and he told me it was his temple garment. From that point on he began teaching me about the LDS church.
Ralph was a musician, and he and I were selected for membership in the 1st EAIT Brigade Soldier's Chorus, which performed in the protestant chapel. Ralph had written a piano piece about the First Vision, which he taped for me and I kept for a few years. Anyway, since I knew my Dad was a Mormon, I decided it must be a true faith. And the idea of a god who was once a man, now living near the star Kolob, fit very well with my Sci-Fi theology. So I readily accepted the faith and was baptized that November. If I rightly recall, we had someone pick us up and take us to town for the ceremony, since there was no LDS church on post.
From that point on I studied my Book of Mormon, Doctrine & Covenants, and Pearl Of Great Price regularly. I had been given two little pocket-sized books, specially made for military guys, which I kept in my ammo pouch during field exercises over the next year. (I gave my pocket BOM to a Mormon lady almost 20 years later, and the other little book, "Principles of the Gospel," I still have - as well as my original D&C). It was very difficult to attend Mormon services while training at Ft. Leonard Wood, and I really don't remember much, except that Ralph and I regularly went to the Protestant Chapel but did our own studying together in our barracks. He taught me much about the faith; he had been a missionary prior to joining the Army, and was probably the most devout Mormon I ever knew. He had open heart surgery as a child, which prevented him from participating in a lot of activities, so he mastered the piano and learned his theology.
Ralph and I transferred to Ft. Benning, GA, together for Jump School at the end of November. Due to an Army foul-up, I got dropped from the class and was rescheduled for the next one. When Ralph finished his three weeks it was the last time I ever saw him, although we kept in touch by mail for almost another year.
I really don't remember my church life at Ft. Benning except that I continued studying my BOM, D&C and POGP. My class was not to start until the first week of Jan 1971, so I had a month doing guard duty and KP. I remember going to church with Ralph until his departure, but I don't think it was on post - those times of my life are sort of hazy. I do remember taking the Sacrament.
On Christmas Eve, 1970, I was on overnight guard duty at the property disposal branch. It was a very clear, cold night. I had my cassette player in my field jacket with an earphone, and I was playing Ralph's tape which included the piece about the First Vision, and I got on my knees and prayed to God that he would reveal Himself to me like He did to Joseph Smith. My prayer was answered the following year -- just not the way I expected.
I also remember a Captain who was part of our group of Mormons (not that many) who helped me out during Christmas time. I was flat broke as a private making about $100 per month and I had the week after Christmas off. When this captain discovered I was staying on post because of my lack of funds, he had me over to his house with his family one night and then gave me money to pay for a round-trip bus fare to go home to Springfield, OH, to spend time with my mom.
Jump school commenced in January with the largest class in history, beginning with 1500 and ending with 1000 of us graduating on the drop zone. During this time Ralph had gone to Ft. Bragg for Special Forces training and suffered a heart attack, which led to a trip to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, DC, and then he was given a medical discharge. I finished Jump School the last week of January and was sent to Ft. Bragg, NC, where I stayed until leaving the Army four years later.
There were no other Mormons in my unit, and I had difficulty getting transport into town for services. I mostly just studied my books, practiced the Word of Wisdom, and communicated regularly with Ralph, while attending services was infrequent.
Late that summer/early fall - I think it was about September 1971 - I was in town on a Saturday with some friends and I went into a Christian book store. There I found, in a tract rack, a tract that was titled "What Mormons Believe," and I believe it was by Walter Martin. This tract raised several questions in my mind, since the author was presenting passages from the Bible compared to LDS teachings on various subjects. Two things that I remember as standing out were the fact that God had sex with Mary to provide the body for Jesus to take on, and that Jesus and Satan were brothers. By logic, Jesus and Satan had to be brothers by the pre-existence doctrine, but I guess I had never given that aspect much thought and now it bothered me. As for Mary, she was supposed to be a virgin when she conceived, since that is what I knew of the Christmas story.
When I did talk to the men at church (ranks, positions I cannot remember), I was told to quit reading "anti-Mormon propaganda." I was told that Mary was a virgin to mortal man, but that God was immortal. This disturbed me greatly because I don't care how you slice it, once a woman has had sex, with mortal or immortal man, she is no longer a virgin and there is nothing miraculous about the birth. I wrote Ralph with my concerns and got the same responses as the church leaders gave me - not much more than a brush off. So I pursued the Scriptures more and more (thank God for that Gideon’s New Testament I got upon entering service, since my old Bible had been left home), and was more and more puzzled by what I found.
Over the next few months I gave up going to church and spent more time studying the BOM compared to the Bible, and I had my mom send me my Bible so I would have the O.T. also. I went to the library on post and found a book that you would label "anti-Mormon," and it gave what I considered solid evidence as to the history of Joseph Smith's necromancy, the fraudulent nature of his claims to have spoken to God, as well as problems with the BOM. By March of 1972 I decided I no longer believed in the LDS faith and told Ralph as much. I didn't hear from him again until much later when I got the announcement of his marriage in the Salt Lake City Temple.
I never again attended worship at an LDS church, and in fact I gave up on religion altogether because I didn't want to be taken in by another false system. I got drunk once (and it was really bad - a fifth of Southern Comfort Whiskey chased with a large part of a fifth of Vodka, and then prayed to a God I wasn't sure existed that if he didn't let me die I would never drink again. I lived and never again drank alcohol.), got into pornography, and became a foul-mouthed GI in rebellion against this God who would let me get suckered into a cult.
Since my arrival at Ft. Bragg I had been in B Company of the 27th Engineer Battalion (Combat)(Airborne) as a demolition specialist, and had excelled at all my duties, including graduating number one from a leadership academy, and winning Soldier of the Month at Battalion and Regiment levels. This gave me a reputation for being a top-notch soldier. My platoon sergeant was transferred to Headquarters Company as the Operations Sergeant, and when his clerk got out of the Army he asked me to replace him. This job would relieve me of guard duty and K.P. and I would be given a “Top Secret” clearance, so I took the job and was attached to HQ as the Operations and Training Clerk in March of 1973.
My desk was by the front door, and everyone coming in had to pass by me. The Battalion Training Sergeant was a young man named Daniel Cook, and he was a Christian. Every morning he would pass my desk with, “Good morning, Chatfield” (and later “Good morning, Glenn”) and I would always respond with, “What’s so *%$^((*& good about it?” To which Dan would kindly respond with, “This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.”
This would always irritate me to where I would mock him. I thought he was some sort of Jesus freak, but he was a very nice guy nevertheless. Sometimes I would take my lunch to my office and be alone reading a “girlie” magazine when he would come by and tell me how that magazine would “rot” my brain.
One day early in the fall Dan invited me to play soccer with a bunch of his friends on the weekend, and he said they’d teach me how. So I went, and over the next few weeks became an excellent goalie. The one thing that was strange was that they always prayed before playing, and Dan told me their group was called the Navigators.
It was sometime in November that Dan invited me to a Bible study with the Navigator group. I told him about my Mormon experience and that I wasn’t interested, but he convinced me that they (his Bible study group) could demonstrate that they had the truth, and that they were not a cult. So I went to the meetings, and they were careful to show the context of everything. I finally decided that what they were teaching was indeed true and I finally accepted Jesus as my savior, and was born again in January of 1974.
Since that time my heart has been for the Mormons, to hopefully lead them to the truth as I meet them. I began studying the LDS faith in depth after leaving the Army, and have acquired a substantial library of official Mormon materials, let alone also lots of what you would label "anti-Mormon."
I was never excommunicated because I just quit going to church. I never asked to have my name removed from the records of the LDS church, although I suppose I should have - I have often thought about it but haven't bothered to go about the process.
So, was I an authentic Mormon? Well, my experience and dedication would say that I certainly was. You may want to dispute that because of my short duration (about 1 1/2 years) and you are welcome to your opinion.