Kirby: Scary times in Mormon seminary

By Robert Kirby

Tribune Columnist

Published: August 23, 2014 02:57PM
Updated: September 17, 2014 04:54PM

I graduated from LDS seminary at Skyline High School in May 1971. I got a certificate of graduation. It’s signed by Joseph Fielding Smith, then the president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and the seminary principal, John F. Heidenreich.

There’s no chance I’d graduate seminary today. The LDS Church announced that it will soon start keeping better track of seminary performance. It’s doing away with certificates and going with actual testing and diplomas.

While I don’t remember graduating, I do remember the hell out of going to seminary. Half of it was early morning seminary, for which I had to be physically dragged out of bed by my mother.

Seminary attendance was mandatory in our home. My parents thought it would inspire me and keep me on the right track.

Mostly it just annoyed me. The rest of the time it was disturbing and even a little scary.

Whenever I demanded to know why I had to go to “extra church,” my parents voiced separate reasons for it.

My father acknowledged that he rather enjoyed making me do stuff I didn’t like. Mom, on the other hand, was a little nicer about it, saying that I had to go because the church was true.

Me: “Well, it’s true there’s a planet called Mars, too, but I don’t have to go there.”

The Old Man: “How much you wanna bet?”

So I went. To seminary, I mean. For the first two years it was an early morning class. I hated it. I slept through most of it and don’t remember much except this girl who was a major babe and sat in front of me.

Later, when we moved to Utah and seminary was part of the school day, I paid attention more because it was unnerving. It was the early ’70s and I’m guessing the church hadn’t yet tightened up the curriculum.

For example, seminary is where I learned that the Lost 10 Tribes of Israel lived under the polar ice cap, and that one day soon the Lamanites were going to rise up again and massacre all of us.

A substitute seminary teacher taught our class that the Three Nephites helped push pioneer handcarts through the snow, and that Cain (who slew Abel) was the father of all “Negroes,” using the word in vogue at church back then.

There was even a cautionary lesson on the evils of necking, and why we shouldn’t even kiss our girlfriends until we got married in the temple.

One seminary teacher went into great detail about how Heavenly Father helped Israeli jets defy the law of physics during the Six-Day War so they could bomb Egyptians more accurately.

Then there was Brother M., who said if any of us got killed, it was because we weren’t standing in holy places, meaning we weren’t where we were supposed to be.

When I asked, Brother M. testified that skipping his seminary class actually increased my chances of getting dead.

It wasn’t all bad. I liked it when Brother Heidenreich taught. He was more … practical. It was stuff I could use. Don’t smoke. Don’t get anybody pregnant. Go to church. Say your prayers.

If the church is tightening up the seminary program today, hopefully it’s tightening up the teachers as well.

I can’t complain too much. Seminary is where I first learned that being in possession of truth doesn’t automatically preclude some people from being full of crap about it.