If garments don’t feel oppressive, are they?

I recently read the fantastic opinion piece by Mette Harrison via The Huffington Post entitled “If We Don’t Feel Oppressed, Are We?” and it really hit home with me. When discussing matters that bothered me in the church, in particular the inequality of women and men in leadership, the argument I received (and echoed in Mette’s article) was: “Well, I don’t feel that way.” In fact, a PR representative from the church in response to women asking for church leaders to pray about the role of women in the order of the priesthood said, “Women in the church, by a very large majority, do not share your advocacy for priesthood ordination for women and consider that position to be extreme.” To pass it all off as kosher we tell women how wonderful they are. And somehow by saying this the masses are placated. Women, when told how innately motherly they are, suddenly forget how much they rocked their business law class because they now feel like becoming a working professional is a role that is less important. We tell women how righteous and spiritual they are and how special it is that they have all these special divine roles that men don’t. Because women have a uterus. Because babies. I’m not arguing that women don’t or shouldn’t posses these qualities. Many women do. BUT, so do many men. And many women posses strong leadership and spiritual qualities often attributed to men. It’s frustrating to me as a woman in the church to see women reduced to their body and what it produces. That because they can give birth they are somehow equal to men and God. Because they’re so special they don’t need anything other than motherhood. Children are enough. Being a mother is enough. I’ve written a few times about modesty in the church and the problem I feel it holds when we focus on lines. I have talked about how it teaches members to focus on the body of the person and...

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Following The Prophet (When The Prophet Hasn’t Always Been Right)

Aug 05, 15 Following The Prophet (When The Prophet Hasn’t Always Been Right)

Posted by in Faith, Featured, Mormonism, Racism

Sitting in the pew, they sing: Follow the prophet, follow the prophet, Follow the prophet; don’t go astray. Follow the prophet, follow the prophet, Follow the prophet; he knows the way. Verse after verse goes by. I look around at all the people singing the words, each voice pronouncing each word with a profound reverence. But I can’t. Line by line, the God within cannot allow those words to leave my lips. Ultimately, the lessons I learned through working with missionaries were God is good and a prophet radiates all that is good and glorious about God. But the prophet hasn’t always been good for all of us. For some, the words of the prophet have brought spiritual exclusion and exhaustion. Let’s make one thing absolutely clear: there has never been a curse on black people. Just some very racist white people who wanted to justify how blacks were being treated. So there is bound to be some hesitancy in singing “he knows the way” with an unquestioning countenance. There are certainly those who would question my decision to stay or somehow sustain a prophet despite my convictions, however, in living my life as a Latter-day Saint, in all my interactions and frustrations with members and policies, Mormonism has revealed itself to be a journey not a destination. For me, it is an unfinished house. Stepping into the Church, I believed this journey would unfold in a straight line. However, it’s been anything but. How do I survive as a black woman in the LDS Church and a culture that is not mine? Around faces that do not look like mine. Even further, how do I thrive? As a black woman, I’ve never found comfort in a white Jesus and Heavenly Parents. Whiteness defined not only in skin color but in attitudes towards people of color. I’m somehow to believe God is a divine racist? In the years since I’ve joined, I’ve found that I cannot survive in believing that. I’ve found that I...

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You Can’t Handle the Truth!

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has long had three missions: Perfecting the Saints, Proclaiming the Gospel, Redeeming the Dead. A fourth was recently added: Caring for the Poor and Needy. But all along, the LDS Church has had a fifth mission–Suppressing the Truth. What truth is it the LDS Church actively suppresses?  Any information that reflects negatively on Church leaders, its history, doctrine and practices. Why does the LDS Church suppress this truth?  Because it may negatively impact the testimony of its members and prevent them from being saved in the Kingdom of Heaven. But does the suppression of truth have other consequences?  Yes, it does. And are some of these other consequences problematic?  Yes, they are. Specifically, the most serious consequence of suppressing the truth is the impact it has on the agency of humankind. Does the Fifth Mission Destroy the Agency of Man? People primarily base their decisions on information. Sometimes the information on which they act is incomplete; sometimes it is just plain wrong; but most would generally agree that the more information a person has, the more likely a good decision can be made. The fifth mission of suppressing the truth makes sure we get only one side of the story–the “faith promoting” side.  There are no grays in the LDS Church; only black and white.  The Church wants to make sure we hear only the white.  No element of black will be allowed to seep through. All information that does not conform with the faithful narrative is systematically suppressed, excised and removed from the narrative. The tools for this mission are not fire and the sword, but white-out and the shredder. Because the Church allows only the faithful side of the story to be told, people will necessarily choose to follow the restored gospel and be saved in the Kingdom of Heaven. They could choose nothing else. They would be unaware that any other choice could be made. Are there problems with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; historical anomalies and even contradictions? There are.  But with this fifth mission in...

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Converts and Pioneers

I study stories. Particularly, I study the ways people tell stories in order to make sense of who they are and where they fit in this world. The stories we tell ourselves and others are powerful forces in our lives, and I love digging into exactly how people do it. One major reason we tell stories is so we can construct our identities. We string together the autobiographical events in our lives into narratives and each time we tell one of these stories, we make many decisions about which events to share or not share, and how to put them together in order to create a picture of who we are, or, at least, who we want other people to think we are. In my research, I have read and heard a lot of people tell their stories as members and ex-members of the Church, and a common thread I’ve seen is that we feel compelled to include in our stories what I’ve come to call “Mormon Ethos Credentials.” For example, at some point after meeting another member or ex-member of the church, we often tell each other if we are a returned missionary or not, if we were married in the temple or not, about important callings we’ve had (bishop, high council, relief society president, etc.), and we also say how old we were when we joined the church, or talk about how many generations back members of our family joined the church, and whether they crossed the plains, or were polygamists, or general authorities, etc. The main reason we tell these facts is that, in some ways, they work together to create an argument about whether or not we really do belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. A friend of mine recently pointed out that within Church culture we have two stories that most of us align ourselves with: a convert narrative, or a pioneer narrative. There are, of course, more than that, and there are definitely issues...

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The Prodigal Son

Our ward recently had stake conference and in Relief Society we were given a lesson on The Prodigal Son by our stake president.  It was a wonderful lesson and I was touched by the words and thoughts that were shared by my wonderful stake president and members of my ward. I think often in the LDS church, we get caught up in the “wayward children” part of the story of The Prodigal Son and see the return of that child as a return to activity in the church. There is nothing wrong with that analysis. It’s straightforward and encouraging. It helps people feel like there is hope for the people they love to return to the church, which is a good thing. But it also lends to disappointment and frustration when those children choose a different, but equally good path. I do have to admit that looking at the story with the goal of getting people back to the LDS faith seems a little narrow minded. I know that I may not be the majority here, but I know for me, it would not be about my children returning to the LDS church necessarily. Yes, that would be grand if they decided to return to the faith that I participate in and that they grew up with, but I am more concerned about my children, and about all of my brothers and sisters in general, returning to THE Father. About coming home to HIM. I think it’s important to look beyond the little world we know to the bigger picture. Many of Christ’s parables are taught this way and I think we grow more spiritually when we think beyond the literal to a broader perspective. Last conference the most touching talk for me was President Uchdorf’s talk, “Come, Join With Us.” I particularly liked this statement: “In this Church that honors personal agency so strongly, that was restored by a young man who asked questions and sought answers, we respect those who honestly search...

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I, Apostate

I am an apostate. Or so I hear. It has recently come to my attention that certain members of my ward have taken to calling me an apostate, likely because of articles I have posted at Rational Faiths. It is hard for me to tell precisely what it is I may have said or written that causes others to view me as an apostate; largely because they haven’t been willing to say it to my face. So I am left to speculate. Am I an apostate because I received a spiritual witness of the Book of Mormon when I prayed my way through it at the age of 18; a witness that has never left me and which I could never deny? Am I an apostate because of the articles I wrote arguing the Book of Mormon is a product of the ancient world?  (See here and here.)  Or because of the article I wrote showing the Book of Mormon is a product of the modern world? Am I an apostate because I have demonstrated a complexity to Book of Mormon narratives evincing patterns likely beyond the abilities of an early nineteenth century upstate New York farm boy?  See here, here, here and here. Am I an apostate because I believe Joseph Smith to have been in touch with the Divine during his brief prophetic career?  Or is it because I recognize he was a person who, like the rest of us, struggled with his humanity and suffered from numerous character defects? Am I an apostate because I voted to legalize gay marriage?  Or is it because I believe the overturning of state laws forbidding gay marriage by federal judges to be unconstitutional? Am I an apostate because I agree with President Uchtdorf that “leaders in the Church have simply made mistakes”?[i] Or is it because I disagree with Elder Oaks that Church leaders are above criticism for such mistakes, and that “it does not matter that the criticism is true”?[ii] Am I an...

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“The Spirit That I Have Seen May Be The Devil”–Nephi’s Slaying of Laban

The opening pages of the Book of Mormon confront us with the most problematic story in the entire book—the murder of a defenseless Laban by a sword-wielding Nephi.  (1 Nephi 4)  We all know the story.  Nephi has been commanded by God (through his prophet-father Lehi) to obtain Laban’s brass plate version of the Hebrew Scriptures.  Nephi and his brothers return to Jerusalem and try everything they can think of to get the plates—with the result that Laban robs them of all their worldly possessions and tries to kill them. Nephi, not knowing what to do next, goes into Jerusalem by night, stumbles across Laban lying drunk in the gutter, and is “constrained by the Spirit” to kill Laban.  Nephi resists the murderous injunction twice, but relents upon the third command and “smote off his head with his own sword.” The traditional Mormon response to this grisly tale is to seek to justify Nephi in his murder, adopting the rationales Nephi himself gives to cover his deed: (1) Laban had sought to kill Nephi; (2) Laban would not hearken to the commands of the Lord; (3) Laban had robbed Nephi of his property; (4) Nephi’s posterity cannot keep the commandments unless they have the law of Moses engraved on the plates, and if they cannot keep the commandments, they will not prosper in the promised land; and, (5) “It is better that one man should perish than that a nation should dwindle and perish in unbelief.”  (This last excuse is ironically footnoted in the 1981 LDS edition to “Life, Sanctity of” in the Topical Guide.) Not cross-referenced is the fact this same rationale was given by Caiaphas as the basis to kill Jesus Christ: “[I]t is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not.” (John 11:50)  This should be our first indication that something is wrong; that perhaps justifications are not in order but rather a closer examination of the story; that possibly we...

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Baby Jesus and Bathwater

Recently I participated on a panel at the Sunstone Symposium. I volunteered because the panel had consisted only of men and the organizers needed at least one woman. Turns out, I was that woman. Jeff Burton, author of, For Those Who Wonder, chaired the session. You can read his Sunstone columns here.  Our panel discussion was titled Coming Out and Staying Alive: How Successful Borderlanders Stay Active and Involved. Each panelist had suffered the pain associated with doubt and spiritual crisis. Some were still suffering. Some of us had come through on the other side and each has found ways to remain true to the faith that nourished us as children, yet open to questions we have as adults. We talked about how we disclosed our doubts and to whom; what responses we recieved; how we’ve been helped in the process. Among the Sunstone sessions I attended, this session really stood out for me. Not necessarily because I was a panelist, but because it felt like an on-the-ground discussion of what was happening right now in the lives of those in attendance. I wish I could communicate the stories the panelists shared and the questions brought by the audience. I wish everyone who questions or doubts or wants to run away from the pain of a faith crisis could have been there. There was something for everyone. A lot of honesty and hope and love. What I can share today is part of my own story and a few points about how I have weathered the storm and found peace in the church I love. This is a poor substitute for the rich and textured conversation of the evening. But it’s what I have to offer. I hope it helps someone. * * * * * I moved into borderlands as I began to face the truth of an abusive childhood. At that time I made a commitment to be open to all truth, no matter how painful it was, (this includes truth about Mormonism)...

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Mind, Body and Soul

“What is man that though are mindful of him?” – Psalm 8:4 What are we? How much of us is simply the result of brain chemistry? Is our consciousness an illusion? Is there any part of us beyond our body? Is our will an illusion and behavior determined? How much of our behavior is programmed by our genes? Are we more products of nature or nurture? The sciences of neurobiology and psychology are in large part a quest to get to the bottom of the ultimate question of what we really are. As science gains ascendancy as the ultimate purveyor of truth in our society, materialism reigns. The entire concept of spirit separate from the body or mind separate from the brain is becoming anathema. Our consciousness itself has been declared as nothing more that the ghost in the machine of our body, the mind an emergent phenomenon of the brain, just as life is an emergent phenomenon of genes propagating themselves stubbornly in the face of entropy. This has posed many challenges for our perception of ourselves and particularly for our religious understanding. The more we learn about neuroscience or biology, the more mystery seems to shrink and the old explanations seem not to hold. Doctors, as students of the amazing machinery of life are prone to this materialist impulse and are generally more atheist than the rest of the population. Physicians in my field in particular, neurologists and neurosurgeons, tend to swing atheist more than any other specialty as we become the mechanics of the brain, a machine more central to what we are than any other part of the body. It is all too easy to look right past the ghost when you see brain disease or injury seemingly destroy the person within and replace them with an empty shell. In spite of all of this, personally I have found so much in biology and neurology that strengthens my faith and sense of wonder and awe about life. One thing that...

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The Road to Tyranny

May 16, 13 The Road to Tyranny

Posted by in Agency, Featured, News

The Road to Tyranny: (Steps to take in order to transition a limited government of the people, by the people and for the people, to a tyrannical government that runs the people.) 1. Wage war on independence and personal responsibility. Play up the victim angle. Everyone is now a victim…a victim of their race, a victim of their social status, a victim of their upbringing, a victim of their parents, a victim of their gender identity, a victim of their schooling, a victim of their poverty, a victim of their drug abuse, a victim of colonialism, a victim of their unplanned pregnancy…Because they are now victims, they are no longer responsible for their actions—its not their fault. Now that they are no longer responsible for themselves, they are not responsible for their spouse, family, children, neighborhood, or community. Because they are victims, someone must care for them. Because they are victims, they are owed something. Because they are victims, they are not expected to accomplish anything. 2. Create new heroes, and demonize those who achieve. Everyone is now a hero, and is now worthy of a trophy or award. Those who are smarter, faster, quicker, or work harder make the rest of the people look “bad”. Hold back those who want to achieve, tell them they must maintain the status quo. Tell those who actually stand out and achieve something great that they did it through nefarious means or because they came from a charmed life—they somehow had opportunities that the rest of us didn’t have. Tell everyone else that the successful people didn’t actually “earn” it. Since they didn’t actually “earn” it, that money must be taken from them and given to the victims. Heros are now those who take money from someone and give it to the victims. Heros are no longer the independent, hard working innovators, or those who sacrifice self to help others. 3. Envision a new religion. The Constitution is no longer written to protect religion from government, but...

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