Michael Barker

Michael is a Guatemalan-American Mormon living in the Northwest with his family. He is one of the proprietors of the Rational Faiths blog.


Content warning: This blog post explicitly discusses the porn industry and sexual acts. No euphemisms are used.   For quite some time I’ve been observing discussions amongst the Rational Faiths permabloggers regarding the LDS Church’s approach to pornography.  Usually the critique I’ve seen amongst online Mormons is something along the lines of: “The Church talks about porn so much and brings so much shame to those men who have occasionally seen porn, that they are actually making the problem worse.  For the Church, a one or two-time porn looker is the same as someone who is addicted to porn.  Those are two different creatures.” The discussions I’ve seen amongst the Rational Faiths permabloggers has been different. The conversation, generally led by two women, has been more along the lines of: “Mormonism’s dissuasion of porn is male-centric – that is, it’s consumer-centric. Apart from the occasional mention of how the spouse of the porn consumer is affected, it focuses on how porn affects the consumer – usually men. Absent from the discussion is how porn affects the women who are in the porn industry.” This latter critique was discussed in a June 2015 Rational Faiths blog post by permablogger, Jared: “The real evil of porn is in the objectification and victimization of human beings, primarily women. Pornography is one of the principle drivers of human trafficking and slavery and pornographers are among the chief perpetrators of these crimes.” (click here to read Jared’s post) Rational Faiths has also discussed, quite explicitly, sex trafficking.  In the February 21, 2015 podcast episode, Jerilyn Hassel-Pool and Brian Dillman have a frank and painful discussion with Tim Ballard, founder of Operation Underground (click here to visit Operation Underground’s website.) Operation Underground is a foundation that rescues children from sex slavery.  (Click here to listen to this important episode.) This critique (of focusing on the porn consumer only) can easily be observed in the following quotes. These quotes came when I searched “pornography” on LDS.org.  I limited my search to General Conference talks: “Young people and...

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First, let me start this blog post by saying that I am an active LDS man who is in full fellowship with the Church and I have concerns. On November 5, 2015 many Mormons  found out about recent changes to Book 1 of the LDS Church’s Handbook of Instructions regarding homosexuals that are in same-sex cohabitational relationships and their children.  The changes were largely condemned by progressive Mormons and also raised concern for more traditionally conservative Mormons.1  Handbook 1 is used by bishops and stake presidents to help lead their congregations.  It is not usually publicly available, but upon request, a local bishop will show you the handbook.  On more than one occasion I have asked my bishop if I could view something in Handbook 1 and he had no problem showing me the handbook.  I did this again after I learned about the new policy changes and he immediately showed me what the online version of the Handbook said; I wanted to make sure that the pdf versions I was reading online were correct.  With that background, I will state that I don’t believe these changes were done clandestinely.  It is an instructional document for the world-wide LDS leadership. On November 6, 2015, Elder Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles was interviewed by Michael Otterson of the LDS Church’s Public Relations Department. Per Brother Ottersson: “The Church quickly responded to many of those concerns with a video interview with Elder D. Todd Christofferson, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. By the end of the weekend, that interview had been viewed by millions.” (click here to read Otterson’s complete statement) The interview offered no clarifications. It made matters worse. It seemed rather that Elder Christ0fferson had  taken notes from the FAIR blog and from the blog Well-Behaved Mormon Woman, on how to defend this egregious policy change. Today I learned of a letter, from the First Presidency, that is meant to clarify the new policy change. Word had been buzzing around the Mormon internet...

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Dear Elder Christofferson, On November 5, 2015 I read the Church’s new policy regarding children of gay parents. My initial reaction, which I shared with friends, was, “Wow. They are treating these children the same way they treat the children of polygamists.” You confirmed my assessment yesterday in your interview. But we shouldn’t treat the children of gay parents the same way we treat the children of polygamists and here are the reasons why: We started polygamy. We did not start gay marriage. We had to disavow polygamy. We never embraced gay marriage so we do not have to disavow it. We have canonized polygamy in Doctrine and Covenants section 132. Um, yeah, gay marriage has never been canonized. Most of the Mormon fundamentalist converts come from the mainstream LDS Church. Homosexuals do not recruit from anywhere, let alone our very conservative church. When the minor child of a polygamist family is attending church, and wants to  be baptized, the ward family is usually unaware that the child’s parents are polygamists.  These minor children aren’t coming from the more isolated groups such as the FLDS church where polygamy is openly practiced, but rather these children are coming from families that are clandestinely practicing polygamy. At times the different sister-wives live in different homes and the father will come and visit his different wives at the wives’ homes.  These mothers are sometimes seen as single mothers by their wards.  This way of practicing polygamy is common among the Kingston group.  On occasion, the polygamist families will all live together, but the practice is secret. This will occasionally happen with the Centennial Park and the Apostolic United Brethren groups.1  The polygamist, Anne Wilde, has openly discussed how she clandestinely practiced polygamy while she and her family attended the LDS Church.2   So, with the majority of polygamist children who desire to be baptized, the local ecclesiastical leaders see no problem with it because they have no idea that these children are coming from polygamist families.  This is different though for minor children who...

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On Friday, October 23, 2015, the Mormon internet world blew up with the release of two new Gospel Topic Essays.  I will be addressing one aspect of the essay entitled, Joseph Smith’s Teachings about Priesthood, Temple, and Women. For a much more thorough and balanced critique, I encourage you to read Rational Faiths’ essay, Response to “Joseph Smith’s Teachings about Priesthood, Temple, and Women, by Fara Snedon. I’d like to focus on the following: Women’s participation in healing blessings gradually declined in the early 20th century as Church leaders taught that it was preferable to follow the New Testament directive to “call for the elders.” (see James 5;14). By 1926, Church President Heber J. Grant affirmed that the First Presidency “do not encourage calling in the sisters to administer to the sick, as the scriptures tell us to call in the Elders, who hold the priesthood of God and have the power and authority to administer to the sick in the name of Jesus Christ.” The current Handbook of Instructions directs that “only Melchizedek Priesthood holders may administer to the sick or afflicted.” With this statement, the reader is left to think there was a clean mark of distinction for when female healings ended. As Fara Sneddon points out, “The essay makes it appear that this decline was natural – more of a progression towards the natural order of things (‘call for the elders’). Again, I find this simplification problematic.” The historical record points to things being a little more complicated.  Footnote 32 of the Church’s essay links to an article titled, “Female Ritual Healing in Mormonism”. On page 84 of the cited article, we read the following1: The enduring power of such folk administration, despite the legacy of formalization, can be seen in a powerful example of unity that occurred in the life of President Spencer W. Kimball who struggled with a significant number of health problems and received frequent administrations from other Church leaders as an apostle and as Church president. In September 1979, after Kimball’s first brain surgery for a...

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Ponderize THIS!!!

Then Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who were selling and buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves.  He said to them, “It is written: ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer’; but you are making it a den of robbers.” (Matthew 21:13) What was the sin that the Gospel writer was pointing out through this act of Jesus? Some historical context will help: “According to Exodus 30:11-16, every adult male Israelite was to pay half a shekel annually to the sanctuary.  In the period of the Second Temple this tax was paid at Passover; to assist pilgrims to Jerusalem, money changers apparently functioned within the large open area known as the ‘Court of the Gentiles’ or in the porticoes that framed the Temple closure, converting to the proper payment different currencies or those that were religiously offensive because of portraits on coins…rabbinic sources provide some evidence for complaints about profiteering by money changers, who charged as much as eight percent for their service.”1 According to another source: “Money changers converted foreign currency into Tyrian shekels, high-quality silver coinage accepted by the temple.”2 The sin was that the money changers were profiting on people’s spiritual experiences.  Were the money changers fulfilling a needed and good role?  Yes.  Offering help to pilgrims and offering animal sacrifices to Yaweh were good things. MODERN MONEY CHANGERS Brother Devin G. Durrant of the Sunday School General Presidency, during the October 4, 2015 Sunday afternoon session of General Conference, introduced the world of Mormonism to a neologism: PONDERIZE Yep.  Ponderize. Brother Durrant said: “The word ‘ponderize’ is not found in the dictionary, but it has found a place in my heart…So what does it mean to ponderize? I like to say it’s a combination of 80 percent extended pondering and 20 percent memorization.” Mormon social media went completely nuts. And I thought George W. Bush was the only authorized American neologist....

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What Does My Mormonism Demand of Me?

Sep 17, 15 What Does My Mormonism Demand of Me?

Posted by in Featured, Feminism, Homosexuality, Racism

I am writing from a place of privilege.  I am straight.  I am male. I am happily married. I have a good job. I have healthy children. For all intents and purposes, I am white. I am not writing this so as to say, “It’s so hard as a white, straight male. Woe is me.” No one wants to read that. I am not writing this so as to receive accolades from my friends who are LGBTQ, or people of color, or female.  That is exhausting work for an oppressed person to do. I am writing this to my white, male, straight, married, privileged friends. I was home sick from church a few weeks ago. I had a computer in front of me and was examining some of my privileges. I have many friends and some family members that have left the Church for various and very valid reasons. Sometimes the reasons have to do with the treatment of gays, the institutional racism, the institutional gender inequality. I think all those observations are true. I live in a conservative part of Oregon. Most people that live outside of Oregon view the North West as a liberal haven. This is not true. Most of the population of Oregon lives within what is called the Willamette Valley. It is a narrow strip that runs from Portland down to Eugene. This part of Oregon is liberal and controls most of the politics of Oregon. Outside of that, the state politics are different. Specifically here in Southern Oregon, where I live, the politics are conservative, with the exception of Ashland, which is a wonderfully odd liberal haven. I also work in a surgical speciality that is male dominant. It’s work that is physically demanding and intellectually demanding. Because of the culture of orthopedic surgery, there just aren’t many women. Because of that, things can be a bit sexist. I have sat with non-LDS surgeons that are quick to point out the patriarchy of my LDS tradition, but lack the ability to see their...

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For the Cause of Righteousness: A Global History of Blacks and Mormonism 1830-2013

by Mike Barker Ah, yes. Race. We’ve all heard the aphorism, “Two things you never want to discuss are religion and politics.”  For many whites, we want to add a third thing, “Don’t talk about issues of race.”  But to be honest, we must. Especially those of us born into white privilege. It’s a discussion where us whites need to do a lot more listening to your Black and Latino brothers and sisters and do a lot more talking amongst our white-selves. But it’s hard work. To be honest, it seems most progressive and post-Mormons don’t want to talk about it unless it is to shame the Church. Often the converse is true for traditional believing Mormons –  race is only discussed when trying to defend past racist policies and ongoing institutional racism.  The white American LDS Church just hasn’t figured out how to talk about race and racism as it is reflected in our individual lives; that is just too painful. With that being said, Russell Stevenson’s opening preface to, For the Cause of Righteousness,  is a self-examination of his own white privilege.  In his opening paragraph he states: “One of the tragic luxuries of living a white narrative is the ability to entertain the delusion that non-white populations and their struggles are, at best, irrelevant.” Later in his preface, Stevenson sets up the boundaries of how he is going to approach the global history of Blacks and Mormonism when he states: “Religion is made on the ground as well as it is revealed from Mount Sinai.” That is, Mormonism’s racial attitudes descended from leadership, but also came up from the grass roots.  This is a controversial view for some, as it puts some of the blame on the Mormons that are not in high leadership positions.  Or to be even more explicit, some have called Stevenson’s view, “victim blaming.”  As Stevenson constructs his approach, he presents a complicated and compelling argument of why/how “leadership” doesn’t always lead. CHAPTER ONE In chapter one, Stevenson weaves the well known story...

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Posted by in Featured, Sunstone Sypmosium

Every year my family makes the obligatory Mormon-Hajj from the mission field to Zion.  We usually make it a point to meet with a few of our permabloggers and if possible, to make it to the summer Sunstone Symposium.   Here is a photo-journal of our visit to the Promised Land:   PART I: CHILLIN’ WITH THE PERMAS                               PART II: AUTHOR SIGNING AND PANEL DISCUSSION WITH JOHN DOMINIC CROSSAN AT WRIT AND VISION                     “You can’t pitch your tent on the middle of an interstate and then say God is punishing you. There are consequences!” John Dominic Crossan       PART III: SUNSTONE SYMPOSIUM 2015 “It’s like a mix between a family reunion and a rock concert!” – Gwen Hutchings                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            ...

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Moses, The Sound of Music, and Storm Troopers

As the lights dimmed in North Medford High School’s Sjolund Auditorium, my nine year daughter put her little hand in mine and with my other I held my wife’s hand. Captain von Trapp blew his whistle for the youngest to step forward. “I’m Gretel!” My daughter looked up and with her smile whispered, “She’s so cute!” I smiled and rubbed the back of her hand on my beard and she laid her head on my shoulder.  More whispers came later: A gasp from my daughter “Do you think they really kissed?” “Yes.” “Ew.” “But what if they are married?” “They aren’t.  They are just teenagers.” “What? But they look so old!” Later a giggle as she looked up at me. “What’s so funny?” I asked. With her smile she whispered, “They said Storm Troopers!” “Oh. Yea.  Star Wars got that name from the Germans.” “Oh.” she replied. During the first act I thought, “We should buy this movie.” About two days prior to this event my wife had mentioned that one of our high schools was doing a performance of the Rodgers and Hammerstein’s, The Sound of Music.  She thought it would be fun to go with our daughters and I agreed.  It was the 50 year anniversary of the movie after all.  Now, this might not sound all that interesting, but let me give you the backstory. I grew up with all boys with exception of my sister who was born right before my mission.  I didn’t like musicals – which probably isn’t much different than most boys.  To be honest, I still don’t like musicals.  I’m just not a cultured dude. I had seen The Sound of Music when I was young.  I also saw West Side Story after reading the script for my freshman English class. And to be honest, I kind of like making fun of those two musicals.   I’ve been known to break out singing, “I am sixteen, going on seventeen. Innocent as a rose,” while in the operating room. I mean, that’s just funny.  And who doesn’t like...

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Here Is Our Apology

Feb 02, 15 Here Is Our Apology

Posted by in Featured, Homosexuality, Repentance

Dear Queer Mormons, We are So So Sorry. We realize that it is not within our stewardship to apologize for or in behalf of the institution that is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, however institutions are cold things bogged down in bureaucracy. Our Mormonism is not cold or distant, it is alive inside each of us, it dwells in our hearts, and informs our choices every day. We love the Gospel. We love our Mormon culture and people. Mormonism is our home, our family. And we know that our queer siblings do not feel the love and belonging that we owe them as a Mormon family. This last week has felt like a family disaster, like our dear sweet grandpas, who we’re used to saying old-fashioned biased things at family gatherings, just took a microphone and told the world that the whole family feels the way they feel. We disagree. We believe that our queer family deserves a sincere and heart-felt apology. . On behalf of our Mormonism, we can apologize. We are so sorry that you don’t feel safe and welcome at church. We are so sorry that you have been taught that there is something sinful about who you are. We are so sorry for the pain and rejection you have felt from your Mormon family. We are so sorry for all the practices both cultural and institutional that othered you, marginalized you, and made you feel lesser. Dear Queer Mormon family, we want you to know what we believe: We believe you are worthy of love and belonging. We believe that you are whole and perfect and exactly as our Heavenly Parents intended you to be. We believe that our Heavenly Parents want you to experience love and intimacy and have families of your own. We believe that Church should be a safe haven, where you feel loved and welcomed to come unto Christ. And we know that these are not the messages that you have received at...

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