The Youngest Bishop in England: Beneath the Surface of Mormonism

The Youngest Bishop in England: Beneath the Surface of Mormonism

by Robert Bridgstock


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Part memoir, part analytical work, this treatise details Robert Bridgstock’s life as an active Mormon, his struggles with his faith, his submerging of such doubts for the sake of keeping peace with his devout family, and his eventual departure from the Church due to the abuse he suffered. After joining the Mormon Church at the age of 18, Bridgstock went on to become the youngest Mormon bishop in England and remained active in the Church for more than four decades, serving it in many capacities and deeply studying Mormon scripture and history. But after having and voicing doubts about Mormonism, and because Church authorities and scripture never delivered satisfactory answers to his questions, he left the Church and renounced the religion. An enthralling read from a leading figure within the Church, this account provides a unique, day-to-day look into Mormon life.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781937276034
Publisher: See Sharp Press
Publication date: 01/01/2014
Pages: 209
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.50(d)

About the Author

Robert Bridgstock served as the youngest Mormon bishop in England before leaving the Church after the death of his wife. This is his first book.

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Youngest Bishop in England

Beneath the Surface of Mormonism

By Robert Bridgestock

See Sharp Press

Copyright © 2014 Robert Bridgstock
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-937276-03-4


Divine Connections

One of my first recollections is of wishing to go to school. The primary school was situated behind my family house, and from our windows you could see happy children skipping down the path to the playground. Through the years there was always the sound of children playing and the familiar bell which brought them to silence. How I wanted to join them! Then one day I did, and never wanted to do so again. Teachers then were about as fit to deal with children as guards in a concentration camp.

From birth, I suffered badly with eczema and asthma, and the asthma caused me to be absent from school much of the time. I remember struggling and stumbling over "Janet and Peter" books in front of the entire class, and being smacked repeatedly on my bare legs for my failures. I never read a book voluntarily until I was about twelve years of age. I also remember holding a toothbrush to my mouth before school and refusing to brush, my logic being that my mother would not allow me to go to school until I had brushed my teeth, so if I just stood there and did not do it, I would not need to go. I lost the battle, because even if I waited to brush till the school bell rang, she would still take me there, late — and that was worse.

I failed my Eleven Plus exam, but I did not know how badly until I reached senior school where, once again, it felt like being in a concentration camp. The very first day, after assembly, all the new students remained behind. I was placed in the lowest level.

My father died suddenly when I was thirteen, and there was financial pressure on me to work and bring wages home for my family. So, I was working at age fifteen as a junior artist in a publishing company, thanks to my uncle John, who also worked there. For years after, I would literally throw my weekly wage packet on the table and say to my mother, "Mum, just take what you want and give me the change." Apart from buying a suit once a year, I had little use for money and felt she needed it more.

Looking for God

I developed a love of nature very early. I first became excited about color while I was playing in some fields near the Foots Cray River. An old lady with her easel was painting with oils. I walked up slowly and watched for a moment. Even then I thought the picture was rubbish, but something struck me and fascinated me. Seeing the colored paint, yes, the color in particular, but also the board, the brushes, the easel, all of it gave me a sensation of delight.

Even then, as a young boy of about nine or ten, I was drawn out into misty fields at dawn — literally drawn out of sleep by the dawn chorus at 4:00 a.m — and walked out into the wonder of nature. I didn't know then the source of my fascination. It has taken me nearly fifty years to understand what called me. It was beauty. Beauty is the supreme link back into the heart of God, or into your deepest self, whichever you prefer. I believe it has ancient roots. I cannot prove this; I can only feel it.

Beauty is everywhere. It is in nature. It is in us. It does not matter how ugly something might seem; if you have eyes for beauty, you will see it. I saw it in those misty fields of my youth and in the faces and figures of the pretty girls. In the end, beauty and innocence can be seen or sensed in the very darkest of places and in the filthiest of regions.

When I walked out into the misty fields of my youth I thought I was just enjoying nature, and so I was. Yet I was searching for holiness. I believed in God, but religion was irrelevant to me. I just had profound and deepening desire to be unified, one with nature — with the entire universe — which is what I consider the essence of spirituality. Everything around me in those lovely fields was holy, and I wanted to be a part of it. My spiritual quest began in nature — not in church.

Maybe it was God or maybe it was just nature giving me a substantial and powerful awareness of the extraordinary and breathtaking beauty of life — the early morning sunlight across fields of gold, the birds singing like they would explode if they did not give vent to their joy. Have you ever been up before dawn? Watched it creep slowly above the distant tree line on a May morning? Watched while the dew rose as steam from the ground and every bird went crazy with delight?

In his beautiful book, Anam Cara, John O'Donohue wrote:

It is a strange and magical fact to be here, walking around in a body, to have a whole world within you and a world at your finger tips outside you. It is an immense privilege and it is incredible that humans manage to forget the miracle of being here..... it is uncanny how social reality can deaden and numb us so that the mystical wonder of our lives goes totally unnoticed. We are here. We are wildly and dangerously free.

A Winter Break in Somerset

I had been working as a junior artist in the art department at Associated Iliffe Press, at Waterloo, London, for about a year, when my twin brother David and I decided we wanted to go into farming; so, I left my job and went off to farm in Somerset. We came home for Christmas, but went back again and found ourselves snowbound. The snows didn't clear until March. The countryside was fabulous, but it was my first time away from home and the cold was horrendous. The building in which we lived, run by the YMCA, was freezing, and the whole regime was like boot camp. I begged to go to bed by 9:00 pm, because I was cold and tired and there was nothing to do.

Homesick and asthmatic, I struggled on. Later, in the early spring, we were sent to separate farms and I said goodbye to David. I went to a farm at Lympsham, not too many miles from Weston Super Mare. Occasionally David and I met in that horrible seaside town. I lodged in a small roadside cottage on a lonely country lane, with an elderly couple, and I was not happy. The following May I called it a day, went home and got back my old job at Iliffes. Later the same year, David also returned, and we lived at home until we both got married. But before that, we both started to think increasingly about God. No rhyme or reason; it just happened.

In Leo Booth's book, When God Becomes a Drug, he identifies reasons why youths get involved in religion. I can now see how they applied to me:

1) Religion (which pretends to represent God) offered escape for me and punishment for what appeared to be my enemies;

2) It offered relief from all the suffering I felt at school — for failure and inadequacy, and for feelings of powerlessness;

3) Religion (in the form of the church) offered me identity and a sense of belonging, a sense of acceptance, and an injection of self-esteem. It felt wonderful and validating when I considered the privileges membership in the church would afford me: total forgiveness, eternal happiness, and power;

4) And, lastly, it promised to destroy the corruption in the world (second coming).

When I became a Mormon, I felt power, certainty, and a sense of immediate superiority — my chosen dogma was right, and all others were wrong! I had a mission and was special in the eyes of God.

I did not consciously think about any of this, of course; I just believed the message and joined the cult. It has taken me a lifetime to fully understand that the principle tool of religion is fear and control. It promises eternal punishments or eternal rewards. Punishment if you disobey its dictates and rewards if you follow its rules and rituals.

Joining the Mormon Church

In my seventeenth year, I became attracted to a religious organization called The Worldwide Church of God, run by American evangelist Garner Ted Armstrong. Armstrong's group published a monthly magazine called The Plain Truth. This, along with its radio broadcast called "The World Tomorrow," was its primary means of its communication. You could pick up Armstrong's magazine at stands at train stations free of charge. It was something to grab and look at while commuting into London. I liked the magazine and the radio program, which preached about the second coming of Christ and the New World Order. Armstrong's concepts of godhead and man's salvation had (as I discovered later) parallels with Mormonism. I was young and impressionable, and found it all fascinating and exciting.

Armstrong's preachings prodded me to start seriously reading the Bible, and I noticed that as I did so I felt increasing guilt about some of my conduct. All manner of sexual sins mix badly with a born-again mentality, and I had become born again in the middle of my first sexual experience with my first proper girlfriend. Bad timing! At seventeen I didn't know what love was; I just fancied her.

After nine months, her father discovered, from reading one of my letters, that we had been having sex. She was from a strict Catholic family and he was a formidable head teacher and a rather brutal father. He beat her when he found out, and I walked away from the relationship. I was not wise enough in those days to make any connection between the archaic sexual attitudes of this Catholic father and the invasive paranoia over sexuality in almost all religions, including Mormonism.

I fell into Mormonism after LDS members told me about the Church and gave me some literature. At the time, I really did feel like God had guided me into Mormonism. Members would say to me, as did my wife from time to time, "Well, there you are Robbie, how can you deny it?"

And yes I do believe I was guided. For reasons best known to fate, I believe I was meant to enter into Mormonism, but also meant to come out of it.

Getting Into It

My brother David and I were baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at the age of eighteen. I immediately immersed myself in scriptural study and books advocated by the Church. I was enthralled by my new religion. It seemed to answer many, many questions and to solve many, many mysteries. Sometimes I went to bed and simply could not sleep because of the excitement I felt.

Not long after I was baptized, Church authorities asked me to help in the work of the Church. (Mormons refer to this as receiving a "calling." ) I was a little frightened, but I tried hard to do as much as I could to help build the kingdom. I gladly paid my tithe (10% of gross income) and devoted my time, energy, and talents to the cause. I was eventually called to teaching positions and discovered, as months rolled into years, that I was reasonably good at teaching and public speaking, mostly because of my passion and sincerity.

Back in those years I prayed like crazy and sometimes cried like crazy. Both before my marriage and at very isolated and infrequent moments during it, my old nemesis, guilt about sexual sin, would call and it always seemed that I was to teach on those days or administer the sacrament. I did the best I could, and never let my sense of unworthiness prevent me from fulfilling my responsibilities. Indeed, I felt my duties in the Church helped me to live up to the best within me. On some of those days, I knew I taught with power, because members came up to me and told me things like, "I really loved your lesson, and clearly the spirit of God is with you. It was so wonderful." Either they were all mad or God was very merciful.

By Their Fruits Ye Shall Know Them

During the early years of my marriage, our home life was very happy. This heaven on earth within our home was evidence that the LDS faith was the only true religion. But was it the only thing that explained such happiness? No. Other couples and families who were just as strong in their faith as we were had no such heaven within their four walls. Many were not happy, and some struggled to make their domestic lives tolerable, never mind heavenly.

Once, while debating with my children, they suggested that evidence for the Church being true was the general quality of their own character. They argued: "Dad, look at Hannah (one of my daughters, absent at the time), doesn't her nature and her character tell you all you need to know about what Mormonism can do?"

The problem with this argument is that it has nothing to do with the truth or falsehood of Mormonism. You cannot make a judgment about the Mormon Church (or any other church) being true or false based on the happiness, or lack thereof, of its individual members, or even on the character of its members. Some might feel it is fair to do just that, but that is nonsense. If proportionately as many Catholic or Jewish families are as happy and fulfilled as some Mormon families (and they are), it would not prove that Catholicism or Judaism were truer than any other faith, or as true as Mormonism.

Jesus once said: "By this, shall all men know you are my disciples, if ye have love one for another." Are Mormons more loving than members of other religions? Of course not. But they tend to think they are, in part because their monthly magazines highlight only what the Church and its members have done to help each other and the wider world. (What the Church financially donates to relief of natural disasters seems impressive, but if you consider its yearly revenue [not including revenue from its vast business empire] you might think its charitable contributions are decidedly miserly. More about that later.)

Unfortunately, the Church's claims to truth are so great that it cannot be only half right: it is either totally correct or totally false; prophets themselves have always said this. If the Church concedes an inch, its claims collapse. Its survival rests therefore on deception, because it has no alternative but to deceive. It buries unpleasant historical information, so it cannot be studied; it no longer mentions untenable and embarrassing doctrines espoused by past prophets; and it relies heavily on good p.r. to keep its image clean and wholesome. Espousing mainstream Christian principles, while failing to mention the decidedly un-Christian aspects of its teachings and theology, is helping it to appear conventional — to appear acceptable to Christians. It hasn't fundamentally changed; it's just gotten better at p.r.

The Youngest Bishop in England

So, my brother David and I joined the Mormon Church on the December 31, 1964. We took to it like ducks to water. We were golden contacts. Soon we were called to positions within the Church. At first, I was called to teach, but I have since had all the usual callings (unpaid jobs) in the Church.

I remember the sacrifice of giving up time in the woods and fields to concentrate on Church life. Yet, like David, I loved reading scripture and Church books. Over the years I have read the Book of Mormon many times. I have also read the Pearl of Great Price and the Doctrine and Covenants many times. And I have read the Old Testament cover to cover at least twice and the New Testament more than that. Apart from this, I have read all the classic books promoted by the Church, such as Essentials in Church History, Marvellous Work and a Wonder, Articles of Faith, and Jesus the Christ, etc. In addition, I have spent endless hours in deep study of specific subjects. My scriptures were covered with red pencil markings in the margins and thousands of cross-reference connections.

Regarding Church work, I was called as a local missionary and memorized word for word four of the six discussions (canned sales pitches delivered to prospects) and regularly worked with full-time missionaries. I also memorized one hundred twenty verses associated with those discussions and doctrines.

On September 20, 1970, after having been married for eighteen months and while serving as a councillor in the Catford (London) Branch Presidency, I was called to be its bishop, when the branch became a ward. At the time, I was the youngest bishop in the British Isles, and felt a bit inadequate. But in many ways it was easy for me, because although my wife and I had one small child at the time, my full-time job was not demanding and she was very supportive. I worked hard at that calling and over the years I have had many old friends tell me that I did a good job.

Even so, doubts assailed me. In those days, the Church sent bishops (but not their wives) to at least one General Conference in Salt Lake City, so I flew over and witnessed the event. I enjoyed some of the talks, but my spirit was overshadowed by powerful doubts and disturbing doctrinal questions. As I completed my third year as bishop, I simply felt it was no longer fair for me, or for the congregation, to try to support and strengthen weaker people, when I, myself, felt so weak in faith.

Upon my release from being bishop, the then-stake president, in whom I confided my doubts, called me to be the stake clerk, in the hope, I think, that his influence would help me through my crisis. The stake president was one of the directors of British Airways and was very clever, discerning, and inspiring, and I trusted him.


Excerpted from Youngest Bishop in England by Robert Bridgestock. Copyright © 2014 Robert Bridgstock. Excerpted by permission of See Sharp Press.
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Table of Contents

Introduction Tim Phillips 1

Foreword Park Romney 5

Preface 7

Acknowledgments 15

Junk Religion 17

1 Divine Connections 21

2 The Denial of Who You Are 31

3 A Whited Sepulchre 43

4 Something is Wrong with You 55

5 A Failed Patriarchal Blessing 61

6 Out of Date Creation Myths 67

7 False Interpretations 77

8 Sex and Mormonism 85

9 Divinely Ordained Adultery 97

10 My Excommunication 115

11 The Tyranny of Brigham Young 133

12 Dealing with Truth 153

13 Paradox and Contradiction 169

14 Money Matters 179

15 Life After Mormonism 187

Glossary 195

Resources 199

Bibliography 201

Index 207

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