The Single’s Ward
Due to my age when joining The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (AKA, the Mormons) most of my time in the Church was in singles wards, which are designed to get single 18-30 year old members married, and to keep them active in the Church, to keep them out of trouble, and to keep them from hanging out with what the Church would consider the wrong crowd.
The very first time I ever attended an LDS service it was at a singles ward, and because I had never seen that concept employed with any other faith, I thought it was odd to have a congregation made up entirely of single people between the ages of eighteen and thirty. Most religions think it is a good thing to get married, but Mormons think you can’t be saved without getting marreid, or at least you can’t make it to the top level of heaven where you have a chance of becoming a god yourself. The Bible is clear that there is no marriage in heaven, yet the concept of eternal marriage is one of the main selling points of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day-Saints.
When I was active in the Church I watched a lot of LDS propaganda films and one of which, The Singles Ward, though not put out by the Church, was spot on. The film was meant to be overly stereotypical of LDS culture, but especially that of the singles wards, and let me tell you, it hit the nail squarely on the head. For the sake of those of you who are not familiar with the LDS Church I will explain the nuances of LDS culture as it becomes relevant, but those of you who are or were members of the Church will immediately be on board with what I am saying, even if you don’t agree with the conclusions I reach, you will agree with my observations.
When I was active I really liked The Singles Ward movie and watched it dozens of times, but as I haven’t watched it in many years I may still be a little foggy on a few details, so if you have seen the movie and I get a few minor details mixed up I hope you can overlook that for the sake of my own story that I will be weaving into the narrative because, after all, the whole point is to tell my story and I think that is why people keep coming back, to hear my story.
The movie starts with the main character, Jonathan, coming home from work and opens the fridge and grabs something, and then does a double take when he sees the beer. At that point Jonathan walks into the living roof and finds his wife sitting on the couch drinking alcohol and smoking a cigarette, two things that are specifically forbidden by the Church. As soon as Jonathan sees what his wife is doing he asks what is going on and she tells him she does not believe the Church is true anymore. Jonathan then says, “But honey, it is ward temple night!” And the scene cuts to the wife throwing her stuff in the trunk of the car and driving away.
Most of the LDS congregations, known as wards, have ward temple night where the adult members go to the temple to perform ordinances on behalf of people who have died and were not a member of the Church when they died. Performing temple work for the deceased, or redeeming the dead as it is called, is one of the Church’s three major missions, the other two are to proclaim the gospel and perfect the saints. In an effort to get as many people to go to the temple to perform proxy ordinances most wards have ward temple night, and a lot of the wards will recruit teen girls in the ward to babysit the children of those who want to go so that as many people can go as possible. I think some people only do it so they can get a free babysitter and get away from the kids for a few hours, and even have dinner together before picking up their children.
After Jonathan’s wife leaves him and they get divorced he stops attending Church and starts doing things that the Church does not approve of, including making fun of the Church and its members in his stand up routine that he does, sometimes at bars. To be honest, even when I was extremely active in the Church and every decision I made was based on the Church, I thought many of the jokes in the movie were extremely funny.
One of the jokes Jonathan tells is that most men hide their dirty magazines when they get married, but not him because as a Mormon he didn’t have dirty magazines, but he hid the popular mechanic and home improvement magazines because he didn’t want his wife to know that he knew how to fix things.
Once Jonathan’s bishop learns of his divorce transferred his records to to singles ward, but Jonathan had no interest in going to church and there is a montage of the ward members coming by and trying different tactics to get him back in church, but each time he anyone from the ward visits he is rude to them to try to get them to leave him alone. After a while, Cammie, a lady from the ward calls to ask if he will do his stand up comedy for the ward talent show, so since she is a nurse at an assisted living facility he suggests that she give him a sponge bath for the talent show. When Cammie says, “That would be inappropriate” Jonathan says, “Exactly” and hangs up. Of course, because this was a movie they eventually got married in the temple.
In several of the singles wards I was in I was a ward missionary and I spent a lot of time trying to get inactive members back to church, and I often baked cookies or brownies and brought them to inactive members, shoveled the snow off their driveways and sidewalks and whatever else I could think of to get them back in church. I even showed up to pick people up for church to make sure they actually went.
When I went inactive while in a singles ward no one came to try and get me back in church because the ward I was in didn’t like me much and did not follow the dictates of the church to be loving and welcoming to everyone. Actually, the way I was treated in the ward was part of the reason I went inactive in the first place.
I was struggling for a long time before I actually went inactive, and some of the major things happened that made me want to leave and not come back happened at family home evening. For the sake of those who may not be familiar with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, also known as Mormon or LDS, family home evening is an activity mandated by the Church, usually on Monday nights, where the family gets together and discusses the teachings of the Church and has an activity and desert. In singles wards the ward meets together as a ward family on Monday nights, usually at the bishop’s house, and the bishop gives the Church lesson before the games and food. Depending on the size of the ward, the ward might be split up into three family home evening groups and one will meet at the bishop’s house and the other two will meet at the homes of the first and second councilors.
The singles wards are typically great about going out and trying to get inactive members back to Church, but if you ask intelligent questions about the Church or challenge the Church in any way they treat you like you are poison. At that point in my life I never thought I would actually leave the Church and was not trying to cause trouble or rock the boat, I was just trying to get answers to some things that troubled me about the Church so I could more easily believe it.
One of the things that caused me to want to go inactive was when I mentioned something I read in one of the Church manuals about the history of the Church, and the other ward members accused me of reading anti-Mormon material and would not believe me that I had read whatever it was in an official Church publication. It got to the point where everyone said I was going to get hit by lightening and kneeled down around me and prayed that I would find the truth and stop questioning the Church. It was the truth from the horses mouth, so to speak, that caused me to doubt in the first place, so I can’t begin to tell you how mad it made me when everyone made a prayer circle around me and would not let me leave.
There were a couple of other instances, but when I decided to stop going to church for a while was when I made an appropriate and relevant comment at family home evening that in no way challenged the teachings of the Church and was told to keep my comments to myself. I responded by saying, “I will do just that” and got up and left and did not come back and no one so much as called to check on me.
Of course, I had a lot of good experiences in singles wards as well, but most of the time I didn’t want to be there and only went because it was expected of me, and at that time I always did what the Church asked of me regardless of my personal feelings on the matter. During my entire time in the Church I never enjoyed a Church service, though singles family home evening was often fun. As a Christian I now go to church because I genuinely want and not because I feel I have to, and I enjoy going.
One of the things I hated about singles wards is the intense pressure that was put on me to date and get married, especially since I never had a good success rate with dating and had some relationships end in spectacular disasters.
In the movie The singles Ward Jonathan gets roped into driving one of his room mates to a stake singles dance and he meets Cammie, not knowing who she is, and gets to liking her and strikes up a friendship with her. Of course, as soon as Cammie finds out who Jonathan is she remembers the phone call and wants nothing to do with him.
Most of the jokes in the movie were extremely esoteric and unless you were deeply steeped in Mormon culture and history you would not get them, and one of the best jokes was when Jonathan asked Cammie for a date and she turned him down so he asked her to pray about it and she said, “I did.” Later one of Jonathan’s room mates tells is telling him not to give up so he says, “When a girl turns you down because she prayed about it that is the ultimate rejection. You can’t just tell her to pray about it again, look where that got Martin Harris.”
Those of you who are familiar with the Church probably laughed at that joke, but for those of you who are not as familiar with LDS history, Martin Harris was acting as the scribe when Joseph Smith was translating The Book of Mormon and he asked Joseph if he could take the 116 pages of the manuscript they had finished to show his wife to ease her mind since he was mortgaging their farm to pay for the publication.
At first Joseph told Martin no because he prayed about it and God said no, but after he kept pestering Joseph he prayed again and was told that he could take them if he only showed them to his wife and never let them out of his possession. Of course, the manuscript was stolen from Martin and never recovered and as a result Martin lost his position as scribe, though he was still expected to pay for the publication. In case you are wondering, Martin lost his farm and never got the money back, not even after the Church got out of debt.
I had a few girls tell me they would not go out with me because they prayed about it, and while I did not believe for a second that they had actually prayed about it, I never asked them out again. My reasoning for not asking them out again was that if they had actually prayed about it than there was no reason to ask them out again, and if they lied about praying than they were not a good person and was not worth my time, and even if I still wanted to go out with them if they went to that length to get rid of me than there was no point in trying.
Another funny montage in the movie is the first Sunday Jonathan goes back to church and it is fast and testimony meeting and everyone is saying crazy things. Fast and testimony meeting is the first Sunday of the month and every Church member who is physically able to do so is supposed to fast from dinner on Saturday to dinner on Sunday and give the money they would have spent on those meals to the Church, and instead of having assigned talks like they usually do it is basically open mike Sunday and those who want to get up and give their testimony of the Church, or at least that is what they are supposed to do. Typically those who get up talk about all sorts of random and crazy things and then end by saying, “I know the Church is true, that Joseph Smith was a prophet and that the Church is currently led by a prophet, in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.”
I thought the testimonies in the singles wards were crazy until I went on my mission and heard what people say in the family wards, and if you are interested in that you can check out my episodes about my mission. After I got married I noticed the family wards I attended had crazier testimonies than the singles wards I had been in as well. I always hated fast and testimony Sunday so much that I was always actually happy when I was too sick to attend services when it was fast and testimony Sundays.
One of my observations is that there is a lot more people in singles wards who either don’t take the sacrament or show up late so people won’t notice that they don’t take the sacrament than there are in family wards. In the LDS Church the sacrament is passed every Sunday and even small infractions against Church rules will mean that you are considered unworthy to partake the sacrament, and the LDS Church has an unhealthy obsession with personal worthiness and those who are considered worthy often harshly judge those who are not considered worthy.
Another one of the jokes that I thought was particularly funny from the movie was when Jonathan commented that a divorced Mormon man is looked at as if they are a failure because Brigham Young didn’t have a problem getting and keeping lots of wives and he couldn’t even keep one. Of course, in all fairness, a woman could not have left Brigham Young without being ostracized by the entire LDS population and probably could not leave him in the first place because of the power differential in place between them, him being the leader of the Church and viewed as a prophet of God and her being a woman. It was also because of Brigham Young’s power and influence that he was easily able to get wives in the first place.
Speaking of Brigham Young, it is often said in the LDS Church, and even mentioned in the movie The Singles Ward, that Brigham Young said that any man over the age of 25 and not married is a menace to society, however, Brigham Young never said that. I am not sure where the story started that President Young said unmarried men were a menace to society, but I think it is said because the leaders want everyone to get married, and I certainly had that saying quoted to me by my bishop and stake president, and they both said that Brigham Young had said it.
Here is what Brigham Young actually said, “I will give each of the young men in Israel, who have arrived at an age to marry, a mission to go straightaway and get married to a good sister, fence a city lot, lay out a garden and orchard and make a home, and especially do not forget to plant a proper proportion of mulberry trees. This is the mission that I give to all the young men in Israel.”
I have talked about this before, but one of the things the movie pointed out about Mormon culture is that a lot of women in the Church prefer men who break the rules over men whose entire life is determined by the Church, and there is a scene where Cammie goes on a date with the Elder’s Quorum president and he shows up in a shirt and tie, makes sure she knows he is the EQ president and at the end of the date he shakes her hand. After the date Cammie and Jonathan cracks a few jokes about the EQ president and how incredibly churchy he is.
At one point in the movie it is mentioned that marriage in the Church is kind of like a carpool and no one cares who they marry because they say, “Hey, you are headed for the celestial kingdom and so am I, so lets get there together.” A lot of members of the Church would scoff at that idea and say that it over simplifies the situation, but I have heard many Church leaders say that any two people, man and woman, who are living the Church’s gospel would have a happy marriage.
There was always so much drama in the singles wards that I tried to go to a family ward but both the bishop of the singles ward and the bishop of the family ward said I should continue to go to the singles ward because single adults tend to fall through the cracks in a family ward because if you aren’t married or don’t have a family you don’t quite fit in and the ward is not a good fit for you, and while I already knew that I was surprised that the bishops had the integrity to admit it, especially the bishop of the family ward.
As a sub plot in the film there is also a huge focus placed on Church missions and the film portrays those who are in the Church as happy and those who leave the Church as unhappy with lives spiraling out of control. At the time I liked the movie I thought the Church’s teachings were correct and the assumption that people who leave the Church are unhappy and only leave so they can commit sin was true, but I am happier now than I ever was in the Church and I try to live a good Christian life.