Her younger sister, Rebekah, shares her same birthday. Bekah is an almost 19 year-old gay Mormon.
I know that a lot of Mormons have expressed offense over Tyler Glenn’s new music video. Some have even blamed podcaster John Dehlin and Mormon Stories for pushing Tyler towards such pain. I want to go on record stating that I’m not one of those people. As the father of a gay, LDS daughter, for me, Tyler’s video felt especially personal.
Last week my wife was cleaning up the basement and she found a box full of Rebekah’s keepsakes. One of the items was a beautiful plaque she had made at girl’s camp with a picture of the temple and the words, “I’m going there someday.” Rebekah was sincerely happy for her sister. The two of them have always been very close. But it was also a difficult experience for her. In one tender moment, she broke down crying as she told me, “Dad, of course I wouldn’t want to marry a man in the temple, but the fact that I can’t have what I grew up believing was the ideal is really, really painful.”
The pain that gay Mormons and their families are experiencing is very real. And it runs very deep. It breaks my heart; and it’s neither John nor Tyler’s fault.
Rather than looking for scapegoats, a true Latter-day Saint will seek to comfort those who stand in need of comfort. Tyler’s powerful video reminds us that there are a lot of people out there who stand in dire need of that comfort, Tyler included.
Why do people rebel? Many sociologists believe, as Gladwell explained in his talk, that people rebel when the cost of not doing something becomes greater than the cost of rebellion.
It’s called deterrence theory, and it’s been used to influence such trivial things as, oh, our criminal justice system. Gladwell cited California’s infamous “3 strikes” rule as an example of how deterrence theory has influenced public policy. Lawmakers though by making the cost of committing crime greater and greater with every offense, it would create a natural deterrent for repeat offenders.
But does deterrence theory really explain why people rebel? Gladwell doesn’t think so. He rattled off a handful of examples – many from the Civil Rights era – of people or groups who rebelled even when the cost of doing so was painfully high.
So why do people rebel?
For Gladwell, the answer is simple. People rebel when they lose trust in authority. Better put, when authority loses its legitimacy.
He described three reasons why people obey authority:
1. People will obey authority when they feel they are respected by said authority
2. People will obey authority when they feel the authority or system is fair
3. People will obey authority when they feel the authority is trustworthy
If you stand in a position of authority and you lose one of those, you’re on shaky ground. Lose two, and you’re asking for trouble.
Lose all three? You’re staring in the face of rebellion.
Which brings us to some emotional remarks by Jeffrey Holland from a stake fireside in Arizona from a few days ago. Like you, I’m well-versed in Holland’s fiery delivery style and his ability to emote in order to emphasize a point.
But even for Holland, these comments were pointed:
“Don’t you dare bail. I am so furious with people who leave this church. I don’t know whether ‘furious’ is a good apostolic word. But I am. What on earth kind of conviction is that? What kind of patty-cake, taffy-pull experience is that? As if none of this ever mattered, as if nothing in our contemporary life mattered, as if this is all just supposed to be “just exactly the way I want it and answer every one of my questions and pursue this and occupy that and defy this – and then maybe I’ll be a Latter-Day Saint”?! Well, there’s too much Irish in me for that.”
I was struck by that quote. Struck because of the bellicose nature of it, which seems unusual for Holland (well, kind of unusual), but also because it immediately and strikingly brought to mind Malcolm Gladwell’s talk from a few weeks ago.
See, I get the impression, not just from Holland’s remarks there, but from a lot of talks and remarks by the brethren lately, that they think people are leaving the church (a.k.a., rebelling) because the cost just becomes too great. They can’t handle all the questions. They can’t deal with the struggle. Their testimonies aren’t strong enough.
The brethren buy into deterrence theory. Or at least that’s the message they send from the pulpit.
But I’m not convinced that’s really what’s going on at all.
People are leaving the church (a.k.a., rebelling) because its leaders have lost legitimacy in their eyes. People are leaving the church because they don’t feel respected. People are leaving the church because they don’t feel the system is fair. People are leaving the church because they don’t feel the leadership is trustworthy.
I understand the pain in Holland’s voice. It’s the pain of a leader who knows he is losing people. But I suspect it’s also the pain and frustration of a leader who knows he’s slowly but surely losing his legitimacy.
And for the leader of a church that hangs its hat on authority, that must be a tough pill to swallow.]]>
“I am not really good at submission,” Garrison explained to the Charlotte Atheists and Agnostics group at the Concord Library in North Carolina on April 13.
And yet Garrison, who was not raised in a Christian household, spent many years doing just that – submitting to her husband and the spiritual male authority figures in her life.
Garrison describes her life before accepting Jesus as “a big old mess,” by in large due to the way she was raised. After getting married at sixteen “to start my own mess,” as she explained, she turned to Christian radio through which she “got saved” (an evangelical expression meaning to accept Jesus and “Lord and Savior”) a year later. She credits the “Bible Answer Man” (Walter Martin) for offering his profound wisdom in those early years.
Garrison ended up in what would later come to be called the “Quiverfull Movement.”
If you are not familiar with the Quiverfull Movement, just think of the Duggars. That name should say it all.
But to Garrison, it was just simply a conservative Christian home school group that would help her know how to raise her seven children in the fear and “righteous admonition” of the Lord.
The Quiverfull Movement is derived from the following set of verses: “Lo, children are an heritage of the Lord; and the fruit of the womb are his reward. As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are the children of his youth. Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them: they shall not be ashamed, but they shall speak with the enemies at the gate.” (Psalm 127:3-5).
Basically, the Quiverfull movement advocates divine family planning, in addition to heavy-handed Patriarchy – “I drank the cool aid to the very bottom,” Garrison explained, “and got the dregs.”
And even through she felt she was “doing everything right,” she admits it was “very hard, very demanding. I sucked at homeschooling.”
Still, despite the fact that her family was beginning to look “pretty Duggar-like” she admits that things were “not adding up.”
After a painful decision to have her husband’s vasectomy reversed and a very difficult home birth, Garrison admits, “secretly I didn’t want more kids.” But for her, the sacrifice was real. Her “life verse” during this time became Job 13:15, “though he slay me, yet I will trust in him.”
Garrison describes the philosophy of the Quiverfull movement as “instant joyous obedience”- “JOY being an acronym for “Jesus-Others-Yourself.”
Garrison went on to describe the Christian home school conventions she would attend and the hundreds of thousands of dollars spent at these events on creation science and “revisionist history.” Popular books “selling this lifestyle” included big names in the Quiverfull movement like Nancy Campbell and the highly controversial discipline methods of Michael and Debi Pearl, co-authors of To Train up a Child.
Education in the Christian home school movement focused on entrepreneurial skills for men and domestic skills for women, since the highest aspiration for a woman is to someday become a wife and mother. Higher education for women is discouraged.
“It’s all about character education,” Garrison explained.
Throughout her involvement in this movement, Garrison noted the way the core beliefs served to reinforce narcissism in the men- “the men are miserable too. It really screws with the man,” turning him into a “narcissistic baby.” Now he can justify his need to control his family with “chapter and verse.”
Through the influence of her free-thinking uncle, Garrison would eventually see the Quiverfull movement for what it was and plan her “escape.” She would soon leave her husband, and come to the profound realization “it’s alright to not be a martyr all the time.”
For me as a feminist Mormon and convert of six years from an evangelical background, one of the most profound moments in Garrison’s talk came when she described being in a home school group and hearing the men in the next room talk theology. She found herself wondering what they were talking about and wishing she could join them.
But even more sobering was the thought that if I had stayed with my ex-boyfriend, I might have ended up in the same situation. I shared this with my husband that same night after we left her talk.
A couple nights following Garrison’s talk, I had a powerful dream I was sitting in the lobby of the Temple. But because of Patriarchy, I could go no further.
This is what Patriarchy does to women. And I too clearly “suck” at submission.
I believe there remains a “glass wall” separating us women from the men. Church does such a good job at perpetuating these feelings of inferiority.
It’s very sad it has to be that way.
Vyckie Garrison runs the blog “No Longer Quivering,” dedicated to the purpose of helping other women escape spiritual abuse. She has been featured on CNN Tonight, Inside Edition, The Secret Lives of Women, and the Joy Behar Show, among other television and radio shows and related podcasts.]]>
“…for I did liken all scriptures unto us, that it might be for our profit and learning…” 1 Nephi 19: 23
The list in Joseph’s letter is preceded by this clause, which has come to be known as the “Standard of Truth” and think it’s appropriate to include it here:
“…the standard of truth has been erected: no unhallowed hand can stop the work from progressing, persecutions may rage, mobs may combine, armies may assemble, calumny may defame, but the truth of God will go forth boldly, nobly, and independent till it has penetrated every continent, visited every clime, swept every country, and sounded in every ear, till the purposes of God shall be accomplished and the Great Jehovah shall say the work is done.”
I like the picture this paints of truth, though not necessarily the idea that God’s intent is to make a thing in the world rather than providing opportunities for his children to progress. Here’s my list.
1- I believe in Gods, including a divine director and all who have evolved to that station. I believe in Jesus Christ who achieved Godhood before entering mortality. I believe in the Holy Ghost, The spirit of truth that resonates with us as we choose thoughts and actions, which advance us towards Godhood.
2- I believe that we will experience the consequences of our thoughts and actions, good and bad and that overcoming bad teaches us to think in unity with God.
3- I believe that the atonement of Christ empowered him to succor and support us spiritually and emotionally as we either enjoy or overcome the consequences of our decisions.
4- I believe that the first principles and ordinances of eternal progress are: Faith; an intelligent force, Repentance; change to improve, Baptism; a commitment to follow Christ, solemnized with a covenant, and the companionship of the Holy Ghost who responds every time we seek him.
5- I believe that the Priesthood is an organization designed to regulate the uniform dispensation of information and as such, it needs to be conferred by revelation and authority.
6- I believe that Christ established an organization to support us in our quest to become like God and that he allows us to adapt and administer it as we see fit, under inspiration.
7- I believe that God exerts his creative powers in our behalf in order to assist us in our personal spiritual journeys and that we may participate in this influence to the extent that we have developed Godly abilities.
8- I believe that the Book of Mormon will teach us essential eternal principles in companionship with the Bible and many other holy books.
9- I believe that we are responsible to receive our own revelation as we consider information presented to us by Church leaders and other sources. I also believe that God reveals his will for the Church to The President of the Church, for Stakes to Stake Presidents, for Primaries to Primary Presidents and so forth.
10- I believe that God blesses those who seek him anywhere on Earth.
11- I claim the privilege of seeking truth and spiritual progress according to my own conscience and allow all others the same.
12- I believe in supporting governments and public policy insofar as they are beneficial to humanity. I also believe in civil public discourse, respect for public servants and change through reasonable channels.
13- I believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous and in doing good to everyone. If there is anything virtuous, lovely or of good report or praiseworthy, I seek after these things.
Now go write your own.]]>
This talk was one of my very favorites of the conference session, and President Uchtdorf didn’t even make any airplane metaphors. Even despite this almost inexcusable fact, the sermon is packed full of answers. I am going to propose three questions that it can be answer: 1) Who is too far gone? 2) Who “deserves” God’s help? And 3) What is the point of obedience?
President Uchtdorf directly answers this question:
Save those rare sons of perdition, there is no life so shattered that it cannot be restored.”
I am going to cheat a little bit and quote President Uchtdorf’s 2013 talk Four Titles as a secondary part of his answer to this question:
We have all seen a toddler learn to walk. He takes a small step and totters. He falls. Do we scold such an attempt? Of course not. What [parent] would punish a toddler for stumbling? We encourage, we applaud, and we praise because with every small step, the child is becoming more like his parents.
And here’s the thing: in the eternal scheme of things, we are all toddlers, aren’t we? I mean, what is 25 years compared with eternity? 50 years? Someone could be 150 years older than someone else, and they’re both spiritual toddlers. With that in mind, imagine the bemusement our Heavenly Parents must feel when one of us earthly toddlers, still learning to walk, turns to another toddler and scolds them for stumbling and falling.
This reminds me of an experience I had when I was little. I was talking with my dad and I started to smell something. I asked him what that smell was and he told me he didn’t know because he couldn’t actually smell anything. I said “well c’mon. Just sniff harder. There’s a smell here–I can smell it– and you just need to sniff and then you’ll smell it.” He tried but still to no avail. So I, being the resourceful young son that I was, offered to help his. I pinched my fingers under my nose and held my fingers under his nose. “There, I said. Now do you smell it?”
Sometimes we can be like the foolish young me in that story. We think that because a doctrinal point, a scripture, or a prophetic teaching is clear to us, that it must be equally clear to everyone. If they don’t get it, they’re just not sniffing hard enough. Turns out, that’s just not how it works.
So if pretty much nobody is too far gone, and if sometimes something that is obvious to us isn’t that obvious to someone else, what do we do? I am going to sneak in a quote here from Jay Bakker, a pastor from another Christian church. He discusses the parable of the prodigal son:
“I used to ask myself,” he says, “Who am I? Am I the prodigal? Or am I the older son? The prodigal is humble and contrite; the older son, proud and vain. But I don’t think that’s what we’re supposed to get from this story. It’s not about identifying as the younger or older brother. It’s about being like the father, who accepts them both. It’s about welcoming the legalistic son and the crazy wild son both into your family. It’s saying I want you both in my presence. I don’t want to lose either of you” (125).
Or, to paraphrase the title of President Uchtdorf’s talk, it’s saying I will place you on my shoulders and carry you home.
We live in a society that focuses relentlessly on who deserves what. Society teaches that if we help someone too much, they will become lazy. Society teaches that some people don’t actually deserve our help–they won’t appreciate our help or they won’t capitalize on it. President Uchtdorf has a different answer for who is deserving:
The sheep is worthy of divine rescue simply because it is loved by the Good Shepherd.
That is an incredibly powerful teaching. We, the sheep, are loved by the Good Shepherd. Because of that, we deserve the Savior’s help. End of story. But Presidennt Uchtdorf doesn’t end with that story. He anticipates our follow up question: “Okay, so maybe everyone deserves Christ’s help, but some people you know bring it upon themselves. They stop doing the right things or start doing the wrong ones. They agree with the wrong people or disagree with the right ones.”
President Uchtdorf anticipates and answers our follow up question with a continuation of his lost sheep metaphor:
It matters not how you became lost—whether because of your own poor choices or because of circumstances beyond your control. What matters is that you are His child. And He loves you. He loves His children.
So now what? How does that change how we treat one another? I’ve always personally had a difficult time with the saying “What Would Jesus Do.” It’s a great idea, but it’s sometimes difficult for me to imagine myself as a perfect deity. Instead, I like to consider the phrase “What Would I Do To Jesus.” He came to earth for the specific and express purpose of standing in for each and every one of us. He literally put Himself in our place. Every one of us. So Christ himself came to earth to stand in for even that guy who doesn’t seem to understand how to use turn signals properly on the road. Even him. Even me.
This is an incredibly challenging way to look at the world. Imagine someone who is literally the worst. Someone who likes the worst presidential candidate, say. Or maybe someone who agrees with the wrong interpretation of Mormon doctrine. Someone who doesn’t use their turn signals. Hypothetically. Imagine this person. Now, before we tie their shoelaces together in our minds and push them over, pause for a minute and imagine the Savior.
President Uchdorf mentions a common metaphor for obedience: the iron of a blacksmith. He says “we may pound the metaphorical hammer of obedience against the iron anvil of the commandments in an effort to shape those we love, through constant heating and repeated battering, into holier, heavenly matter.”
He acknowledges that there may be times when this violent, confrontational, metaphor explains the nature of obedience. But then he goes a step further to propose another metaphor: “Maybe obedience is not so much the process of bending, twisting, and pounding our souls into something we are not. Instead, it is the process by which we discover what we truly are made of.”
In this light, the answer to the question “what is the point of obedience” isn’t “to become a battle-ready sharpened piece of metal,” but “to learn about our heavenly parents.” We don’t obey to make ourselves into something: we obey to learn what we already are.
To continue President Uchtdorf’s earlier metaphor, a toddler doesn’t try to walk in order to become the type of being who can walk. The toddler already is that. The toddler tries to walk because that’s what mom and dad do, and because that’s what the toddler was born to do.
This is an interesting time in the history of the Church. Many people are struggling. Many people feel like they don’t quite fit in body of Christ any more. It’s not so much that the hand is saying to the foot I have no need of thee. It’s that many among us feel like the appendix. The rest of the body is saying okay fine you can stick around but don’t raise a stink. Don’t ask the wrong questions. Don’t believe the wrong things. And certainly be careful about what you say out loud–we don’t want your weird appendix germs getting all over us. We can’t quite understand why you’d even want to be here.
Elder Wirthlin anticipated this feeling when he opposed what he called
the erroneous belief that all members of the Church should look, talk, and be alike. The Lord did not people the earth with a vibrant orchestra of personalities only to value the piccolos of the world. Every instrument is precious and adds to the complex beauty of the symphony. All of Heavenly Father’s children are different in some degree, yet each has his own beautiful sound that adds depth and richness to the whole.
But man, piccolos must really make an orchestra uncomfortable if it’s accustomed to string instruments.
The three questions I suggested today, “who is too far gone,” “who deserves God’s help,” and “what is the point of obedience” are personally important to me. President Uchtdorf answers the three questions most powerfully in his talk. I will conclude with President Uchtdorf’s closing remarks:
We are created by the Almighty God. He is our Heavenly Father. We are literally His spirit children. We are made of supernal material most precious and highly refined, and thus we carry within ourselves the substance of divinity.
Here on earth, however, our thoughts and actions become encumbered with that which is corrupt, unholy, and impure. The dust and filth of the world stain our souls, making it difficult to recognize and remember our birthright and purpose.
But all this cannot change who we truly are. The fundamental divinity of our nature remains. And the moment we choose to incline our hearts to our beloved Savior and set foot upon the path of discipleship, something miraculous happens. The love of God fills our hearts, the light of truth fills our minds, we start to lose the desire to sin, and we do not want to walk any longer in darkness.
As an institution, the LDS Church has a clear set of formal rituals to mark the beginning of membership and belonging in the worldwide church. Baptism and confirmation – by authorized priesthood holders – automatically entail formal entrance into the Church. However, these only conditionally entail entrance into the Kingdom of God as a spiritual, eternal entity. The ordinance of confirmation makes this most clear, with its command to “receive the Holy Ghost,” though the principle applies to baptism as well. In order to spiritually “enter in by the gate” the path to eternal life, more than the formal rituals are required. There has to be an unseen – and unseeable – change of heart and consecration of effort. Not everyone who enters the waters of baptism receives the covenants there offered.
Excommunication provides the exit to match the entrance. In an organization in which membership means something, it is only fair that there are ways for both the individual and the institution to sever that tie. Members can resign their membership. So why would we expect that the institution could not remove its imprimatur upon that carefully tracked and reported membership? I find these words from Joseph Smith to be utterly sensible:
“We believe that all religious societies have a right to deal with their members for disorderly conduct, according to the rules and regulations of such societies; provided that such dealings be for fellowship and good standing; but we do not believe that any religious society has authority to try men on the right of property or life, to take from them this world’s goods, or to put them in jeopardy of either life or limb, or to inflict any physical punishment upon them. They can only excommunicate them from their society, and withdraw from them their fellowship.” (D&C 134:10)
Membership is not a unilateral claim to be imposed on the other party. Just because someone still feels Mormon or wants to continue claiming a part in Mormonism, that should not mean that the LDS Church must continue to recognize that claim. Institutionally, the Church has a reasonable right to limit membership, including by expelling those who act contrary to or reject its central tenets.
On the other hand, I doubt the truth of what the Church teaches about the eternal, spiritual impact excommunication.
When I was young I remember learning that excommunication was a merciful act because it released the serious or unrepentant sinner from the weight of their covenants, freeing them to repent and be rebaptized. But this doesn’t make sense to me any longer.
It seems more likely to me that excommunication simply removes us from the earthly kingdom. It is an outward sign of what we suspect – but cannot know – is the inward state of a soul. As in baptism, a formal set of procedures is in place to attempt to discern the heart of an individual. But those procedures are not magical nor impervious to error. Sometimes people are welcomed into the Church without real intent or preparation to enter the eternal, spiritual Kingdom of God. Similarly there are members who are excommunicated from fellowship in the earthly Church while inwardly maintaining their covenants with God and continuing to the spiritual blessings that come with sincere discipleship.
To believe that excommunication itself always severs covenants is to believe either that leaders are infallible in these decisions or that God has granted power to some individuals to bar others from eternal life even when they act in error.
As a final evidence, consider the contrast between the processes of entrance and exit. While the first is composed of public ordinances, is well documented in holy scriptures, and and practiced openly, the latter involves no clear ordinance, is given little attention in our scriptures, and is performed in secret. While baptism and confirmation clearly mark the beginning of a covenant with God – heavy in symbolic imagery and active participation – do we really believe those covenants can be ended by a letter sent from a bishop or stake president through registered mail? Is that how our Heavenly Father would unmake a covenant with his child?
Therefore, while I support excommunication as an necessary right of the earthly Church, it’s fair to say that I don’t believe in excommunication – at least not as we usually understand it. To paraphrase Joseph Smith:
I believe that all religious societies have a right to deal with their members for disorderly conduct, according to the rules and regulations of such societies; provided that such dealings be for fellowship and good standing; but I do not believe that any religious society has authority to try men on the right of eternal life.
That, ultimately, is between them and their Heavenly Parents. I, for one, will continue to cling to a hope in Christ that many, if not all, of those cast off from among us are continuing to make their way to our Heavenly home.
(Photo by J., CC License)]]>
But even worse, I’ll bet those proms aren’t even really Mormon. They’re missing a major opportunity to be true blue through and through. Is there one chaperone spousal unit assigned to every couple? Is there a Bishop’s Standards Night talk as told by a local bishopric through interpretive dance? Do all couples have Books of Mormon taped to their chests, ensuring both safe personal dancing distance plus an extra layer of modesty for the girls? When kids walk in the building do they have to go through rooms that represent the three kingdoms of glory that the young women spent weeks decorating and preparing and end up in the gym which symbolizes the Celestial Kingdom and that’s where the dance is and would you dance nasty or dress immodestly in the Celestial Kingdom, no of course you wouldn’t? Is Alex Boyé–or at least an Alex Boyé impersonator–on stage, wearing a kanzu, and singing faux-Africanized Primary songs and Taylor Swift medleys? Is there a booth in the corner where young people can pledge to never kiss a member of the opposite sex until at least a week after they’re married, just to be safe? Is there an Iron Rod that extends the length of the dance floor that all prom attendees must hold onto at all times, even and especially when dancing, and those who let go are sent to an adjacent enormous wooden mock-up of the Great and Spacious Building where they must point at and mock the remaining dancers who will receive the Lehi Medal of Obedience–cut in the shape of a tree–and a free basket of fruit at the end of the dance?
I just think that if you’re going to have Mormon prom, HAVE MORMON PROM.
I have very nearly finished reading every general conference talk given by the first four presidents of the LDS church: Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, John Taylor, and Wilford Woodruff. As I’m working through Wilford Woodruff, a trend has stood out to me because it is in such contrast to my current life. Here are some quotes from 4 October 1890:
Our Heavenly Father revealed from heaven, over sixty years ago, to the inhabitants of the earth, through the mouth of the Prophet of God, whom He raised up, that He had set His hand once more, for the last time, to prune His vineyard and to prepare the people of the earth for the coming of the Son of Man.
These are some of the principles that have been taught from the time of Father Adam down to that of every Patriarch, Prophet, Apostle–and even the Savior himself–in their day and generation, as the only Gospel ever revealed to the human family in any age of the world. There has never been but one Gospel; that Gospel is “the same today, yesterday and forever.” That Gospel is the same that was taught by Adam to his children; which Elijah, Methuselah, and all the ancient prophets and patriarchs taught to their posterity, and the inhabitants of the earth.
Now words like these aren’t really very different from things Joseph or Brigham said, but something significant changed in the practical understanding of these ideas. You see, with Joseph, he thought he was simply restoring past teachings that had been lost. In many instances that is demonstrably true–Joseph was bringing together ideas that existed but were no longer part of Christendom. But the practical effect of viewing himself as a restorer of things that had been lost was an intense newness to much of what he did. Joseph looked back toward a past that was either lost, or had never really existed, and his resulting teachings and actions were effectively a projection into the future of the world he hoped to create. To paraphrase him, if we end up in Hell, we will cast out the devils and make a Heaven of it. Practically speaking, Joseph was about creating the future, not recreating the past–whatever he said or thought to the contrary.
Brigham Young was much the same. For years he hung on Joseph’s every word, and he never lost sight of that, but Brigham acted like most everything was still up for modification. He repeatedly changed the temple ceremonies. He changed who could get the priesthood. He said if Joseph were to translate the Book of Mormon again, it would probably be substantially different. He experimented with the structure of the United Order. Brigham looked to past prophets, and quoted them when it suited him, but he wasn’t shy about using their teachings to promote his modern agenda.
John Taylor was interesting and a little dull. He spent much of his presidency in hiding, writing long general addresses to the church while he avoided arrest for polygamy. Polygamy overshadowed most other topics, and he frequently wrote about hanging onto Joseph’s teachings despite the pressures to let them go. It was almost like he didn’t have time or energy to do more than defend what already was against active attack from the outside. He probably didn’t.
Wilford Woodruff largely ended the conflict with the outside world after the declaration ending polygamy (or beginning the end of polygamy), but it seems like a consequence of this was the need to show that the current church was still the same as the past church. In effect, revelatory innovation all but died at this point.
As with many others, I spent my youth looking to know Joseph, looking to understand the Restoration he began, and looking for the light he revealed about God and Jesus. Things long lost could now be understood! Listen to our living prophets, and all we need to live holy lives would be given us, if we listened carefully enough and obeyed as best we could. And like many others, I tried to balance the listening to prophets with listening to the Holy Ghost–something all the prophets told us we should be doing. I tried to balance personal and institutional revelation. At some point my experiences, study, and natural inclinations led me to recognize conflicts between my personal experience of God and goodness and various cultural norms. Later on I began to recognize differences between my own revelation and institutional revelation. I found that more and more of my real questions were not well answered by appeals to past prophets. I could find inspiration in their words. I could often interpret their words in ways that gave me useful answers. But the answers weren’t really in their words. The answers were in other books I read with, for example, more detailed information about the history of life on earth, with more thorough, statistical analyses of parenting and relationships, with more specialized knowledge of social and individual psychology, or with more technical knowledge about likely future trends in technology and its influence on the future of humanity. Looking to past prophets was answering fewer and fewer of my unanswered questions.
What of looking to living prophets? Feel free to evaluate the evidence yourself, but I began to notice that most of what they taught referenced past prophets. This makes great sense to me, but it means that little that they teach answers my unanswered questions.
Now it would be wrong to say that I don’t look to the past. I am constantly reading books that by definition are past knowledge. Many of the books I read and love aren’t even recent. I still derive great worth from dead prophets–even thousands of years dead. But I have lost the religion of my youth. I have lost the wonder at finding everything important I wanted to know had been talked about by a past prophet. I haven’t lost the desire to learn from history. I still think we must learn from it or suffer the same errors, but I no longer yearn for a magical past–the days of Adam when everyone had the unadulterated Gospel nearly straight from the mouth of God.
I haven’t lost my longing for Zion. I have lost any hope that we can build it by recreating the city of Enoch or Mesoamerica after Christ’s visit. That isn’t our world. Our world is now, and our world is coming. We are shaped by the past. We are wise to look to the past. But I have lost the trust in the past I had as a youth. The trust I have left is really a hope–a hope that God is there, a hope that our Heavenly Parents really set us on a path to be like them, a hope that we really can partake of the Atonement and become one as children of Heavenly Parents.
I’m still a believer that the most important task of this life is to show we are morally good–especially loving–individuals. That’s it. Love. Everything else is secondary, or as Paul put it, without Love I’m just a noise maker. But for me the best expression of that love is how I contribute to building Zion. And for me building Zion is about looking to the future. It isn’t about getting ordinances (that I imagined were more constant than they ever really were) to all the world. It isn’t about spreading sound bites about the nature of God to all the world. But I still believe in doing those things, because it is about covenanting with the world to take upon me their burdens. To live with them throughout eternity, knowing that I will sometimes hurt them and they will sometimes hurt me. It is about sharing what truth I have and looking to learn from their truths. And that covenant has never changed. It has never lost its value. God’s promise to save his children–every single one who will be saved–has been around forever. At least I hope so. That’s my faith in the past. That’s why I long for a Mormonism that is more about living the restoration than about knowing what has already been done. A Mormonism that judges what is right by its fruits more than by what a past prophet has said.
Maybe it’s a stage of life. I physically and socially can’t be part of Mormonism the way I was as a youth. I can’t serve in church the way I did from age 18 to 37, so I have to see Mormonism differently or simply accept that I’m a bad Mormon–and maybe I don’t want to accept that. But I like to think that life pushing me to the fringe of Mormonism has given me added perspective. I like to think it has given me more empathy. I like to think it has given me clearer direction about how I, in my special life that Heavenly Mother and Father laid out just for me, how I am to show that I’m a loving being. How I am supposed to help build Zion. How I am to give my all to build up the kingdom of God. For me it seems to mean more imagining the future, inspired by the past, and less aspiring to the past.
Image Credit: Past, Present and Future by Mark Stolk]]>
Listen in to hear more about what makes Kirby tick, what his current calling is, and who he would resurrect in order to make a movie with. I promise you will laugh at least once.]]>
In BYU’s statement to the Tribune, spokeswoman Carri Jenkins pointed to the school’s sexual misconduct policy: “Violations of university policy or the … Honor Code do not make a victim at fault for sexual violence … and will be addressed separately from the sexual misconduct allegation.”
Barney scoffs at the claim of separation.
‘Separate.’ That’s the word they constantly use to justify sending victims to the Honor Code,” said Barney. “You can’t just chop up the rape into little pieces and take out the parts you want to punish people for.”
Barney’s comment about authorities chopping rape into little pieces is particularly insightful. Many cultural and religious institutions try to control and manage women and sex, and her comment is revealing in terms of the way this happens in our culture. The church is so invested in patriarchal control that it often allows men and boys to be perceived as not being fully responsible for their sexual misdeeds or other general failings (though there have been important contrary public exceptions to this rule). Rather than the idea that full male responsibility for sexual misbehavior isn’t warranted because of presumed mutual consent, the underlying assumption seems to be that men are always at least partly the helpless victims of powerful external forces beyond their control. These are both sexual and non-sexual forces that the male nature is said to be almost powerless to resist without significant help (because they’re otherwise prone to laziness and selfishness, men need prods and spurs in order to work hard, be good fathers, respect women, become leaders, etc). Whatever happens, the priesthood–and men’s positions as active priesthood holders–must be preserved.
Men are still regularly reprimanded and told to do better in their personal behavior, marriages, and church responsibilities, but there’s always this underlying message: when it comes to sexual misconduct, it is not entirely a man’s fault, not when he is confronting powerful forces that he is too weak to defend himself against on his own, and not when there are always women wherever you go who behave and dress in immodest ways. A man’s actions may be condemned and even prosecuted in various ways but at the same time we will hear that women must stop contributing to male misbehavior, stop being part of the problem, curtail and shield their overwhelming powers so as to not inadvertently weaken the priesthood power so essential for managing the church. The reprimands that men can regularly expect from priesthood leaders are part of ensuring that power in the church remains in the hands of priesthood-holding men by addressing unease and anxiety among both men and women through policing from leaders and encouraging self-policing among men themselves. This helps serve to relieve concerns that perhaps all-male control of the church and its associated institutions–particularly where women and children are involved–isn’t always a good idea. Everything is fine, it can then be said; just look at them sternly flagellate themselves and remind their fellow brothers of their sins and the need to constantly do better. No need for things to change, for they are managing their own problems.
Meanwhile, women are depicted over and over again as pure and innocent non-agents, but non-agents who are also sexually irresistible in ways that men are not, a righteous yet raging fire that must be kept in check at all costs. Importantly, women are also expected to police men, usually just as much if not more so than men are expected to police themselves. Both women and men expect women to constantly remind men of their responsibilities, to be calming and moderating influences on the naturally harsh, impatient, and easily beguiled male temperament, and perhaps most especially to be eagerly receptive to male leaders’ effusive praise of women as morally superior beings who then in turn desire that the men in their lives be more like the leaders of the church. This female policing of men more fully invests women in the patriarchal order.
Thus women are almost always at least partially to blame for male sexual misconduct–while men are not as strongly to blame (if they are blamed at all) for female sexual misconduct. Female sexuality, as Barney says, is partitioned and used in this way in order to allow as many men as possible to retain their priesthood and safeguard the current order. But since these teachings and views about sexuality are universal throughout the church, they potentially impact any sex-related situation involving girls and women, whether a man’s priesthood is potentially compromised or not. Sexuality is seen as one thing when a woman is raped, while simultaneously and confusingly seen as another, different thing that contributes to her own rape. What does it do to a woman when she is forced to paradoxically see herself as pure and naturally spiritually mature, yet also with an innate potential to ruin men and endanger her own life? Women can “lose their virtue,” but it often seems as if men have no virtue to lose, and women’s potential for violation somehow becomes a causal factor that enables and then justifies men raping them. Logically, then, LDS women can be seen as genuine victims of sexual violence, deserving of the same justice and personal healing any woman should be afforded in the aftermath of such a terrible event, while at the same time being potentially indictable for being in a situation that makes it possible for their rape to occur. The parallel criminal and Honor Code investigations in the above cases are especially visible and distressing examples of where this kind of logic of dual and conflicting responsibility can and does ultimately lead, making it difficult for genuine mercy and justice–to say nothing of sound reasoning–to find a secure foothold.
Of course, assuming that any BYU students who holds the priesthood are apprehended as rapists (and there’s a fairly good statistical chance that the rapists in the cases in the Tribune story above are such priesthood-holding men), they could also be prosecuted by the law while being subject to an Honor Code investigation, but this logic inversely applies to them and in a way that doesn’t create injustice or incoherence. According to this line of reasoning, women who are raped could be considered what we might call “strong victims” (“strong” meaning that their designation as a victim is their primary designation). They are seen here as victims of a terrible, personal crime, but they could also be considered “weak aggressors” (“weak” meaning that their designation as aggressors is their secondary and less vital designation). In this sense, they are also seen as having violated religious codes or promises which contributed to the crime or sin that made them victims and tarnished their own worthiness and the worthiness of male priesthood holders or potential priesthood holders (however much it may be admitted that they committed a serious and devastating crime). The logic is inverted on the other side with men: Men who rape could be designated “strong aggressors” because of the rape (and are usually condemned as such), but also “weak victims,” in the sense that they were subject to overwhelming desire unleashed on them by women who had seduced them in violation of their covenants (or promises to obey a school honor code), women who were heedless of the potential or real consequences resulting from their actions, however traumatizing.
This logic leads to blatant yet unintelligible injustice when applied to women (the victims who are also condemned as aggressors) but a false justice when applied to men (lesser victims even while being subjected to criminal justice–in theory–as strong aggressors). But how this applies directly to men is ultimately a red herring. Why? Because the weak senses of victim and aggressor of men and women respectively are far, far less important–to the point of total irrelevancy–than the strong senses in which the woman is a victim and the man an aggressor. Yet this reasoning insists that there is a way in which it makes sense and is vitally important that in cases of sexual violence a woman can be considered both a victim and an aggressor, and while that continues, women will be the ones subject to forces that chop their sexuality into pieces.
My comments here are obviously directed primarily at cisgender men and women, but the problems do not disappear for LGBT persons and are even compounded for them. Gay men are encouraged–explicitly or implicitly–to pass for straight men in order to retain their priesthood, lesbians by comparison are practically invisible, and we clearly haven’t a clue what to even begin to do about transgender persons. But it is clear that female sexuality is a currency to be spent and divided in whatever ways are necessary in order to pay off the patriarchal loan that keeps male power in business.
The church is far from alone in using interpretations of male and female sexuality to mutually reinforce male institutional power; it’s a truism to point out that patriarchy is everywhere to one degree or another. I’m offering no solutions here, only to insist that it is the current order of things–an order that multi-dimensionally augments and strengthens the assumed necessity of male power–that is ultimately the First Cause that leads to situations that make a woman both victim and contributor to her own victimhood at the same time. As long as sex and rape are treated as equivalents or near-equivalents, it becomes extremely difficult to see how female sexuality isn’t being used–intentionally or unintentionally–as a means to shore up the dominant story about the rigid roles and natures of men and women, a story that is detrimental and damaging. Until we begin to change what we think must be believed about female and male sexuality, we will not be able to prevent events like this that are both terrible and incoherent.
*My appreciation to Gina Colvin, Holly Welker, Blaire Ostler, and Jessica Steele for insightful comments and criticisms that significantly improved this essay.]]>