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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You may be irreverent, but you’re no thug

You may be irreverent, but you are no thug. … and you already know this, but it hasn’t stopped ignorant behavior in the last two weeks on social media. It hasn’t stopped lots of Mormons who should know better but act like they don’t and instead want myself, and other MOCs (Mormons of Color) to “just lighten up!” Since there is no lightening up – neither here nor in the afterlife nor on the way to glory (and I don’t care what your parents told you about brown people turning white based on righteousness) – let me stand straight in this crooked room for a bit and take a break from my normal writing focus. Here’s my open letter (of sorts) full of random commentary to all of the LDS folks flashing #thugmormon on social media in these last 2 weeks, You’re. Not. Thugs. Y’all. For real. How did this happen? I have so many questions! Fill me in, is this another Restoration thing? Did I miss the memo? You know we Mormons love to restore stuff and tell people the real meaning of a regularly (or not) recurring phenomena… like baptism, the Trinity, the Godhead, masonry, temples, who can give blessings, how to translate ancient writings, etc. And now, you want to redefine thug for the rest of us? You realize that we’re the folks whose lives are marginalized  by the word “thug” in mainstream and conservative Republican media, and you want to own it as if it’s a cute accessory to wear? For how long, just until you get bored of the attention and need something else to stay on the radar? Are you trying to be funny? Is my favorite Mormon funny man calling himself a thug? Who’s responsible for this mess? Who thought this was a good idea? Virtuous? Lovely? Good report? Praiseworthy? This is what we’re seeking after? Thug Mormons? Is this a thing? Or is it a joke, you know, like what we Mormons usually are to the...

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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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If the Church came to me for therapy

In preparation for the 2nd annual Mormon Mental Health Conference (July 29, 2015), I’ve been reflecting on my work as a therapist within Mormon culture as I’m sure are many of my  colleagues who will be presenting to other mental health professionals at the conference. I’m looking forward to the conference and I’m working my way through hesitation as well. As a therapist, I’ve had clients who told me they picked me from our website specifically because they knew, that out of all of the other therapists on there, *I* wouldn’t be LDS.  You get one guess. I’ve also had clients who have felt so much on the outside of LDS culture that they feel my blackness gives them the safety they need to feel like they’re with somebody who gets it, doubly so if I tell them that I , too, am LDS (I don’t anymore). I know that as a profession, we see myriad issues impacting the Church as an institution and the people who identify themselves with the institution from doctrine to culture.  We see it as our duty and our opportunity, and sometimes a blessing, to be in positions to serve our clients in their pursuit to live full, rich, and meaningful lives.  As a therapist, I’m often in the position of noticing and pointing out the blind spots that my clients have when it comes to the people they love and the ways that they want to improve their lives on this journey to richness and meaning. It takes a while to build a relationship where a therapist can speak to the blind spots you see with confidence and some level of authority, and particularly in a way that your clients will be open to hearing and acknowledging the possibility of a blind spot. Sometimes my clients know that they have a blind spot, and they are doing their best to ignore it because it doesn’t fit with their worldview. Sometimes the blind spot being ignored shakes the very...

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Review of Religion of a Different Color

Jul 09, 15 Review of Religion of a Different Color

Posted by in Book Reviews, Featured

When J. Kameron Carter, one of the more compelling theologians of black spirituality today, was asked about the shooting of Trayvon Martin, he argued that Christianity must “reckon with the fact of how our churches in many ways reproduces the very social structures that created the conditions for what happened.” The world in which we live, he continues, is “built on a logic of separation, wants to manage who belongs to who, how social belonging can work.” Race is a “social management” and a “conceptuality” to dictates those to whom we belong and those from whom we are alienated.[1] When these social orderings come under interrogation, it compels racially-oriented societies to redraw lines and networks. In W. Paul Reeve’s book, Religion of a Different Color: Race and the Mormon Struggle for Whiteness, we see exactly how tenuous of a conceptuality race is, how fluid and porous it can be. Two generations of critical race theory have taught us nothing else, it has shown us that race can mean everything and nothing, depending entirely the forces circulating the racial communities in question. Reeve argues that Mormonism represented more than a strain of religiosity in nineteenth-century America; it also served as a prism revealing how complex racial attitudes could be. Reeve’s work dovetails–and in some ways, contrasts–nicely with James O’Toole’s work, Passing for White: Race, Religion, and the Healy Family, 1820-1920, in which O’Toole uses the family history of the Irish immigrant, Michael Healy and his slave wife, Eliza Healy to show how a mixed race family could convince their social networks of their essential whiteness[2]. And certainly, if a partially African family could do it, then, at the least, racial identity was an arena for contestation as much as it was a system of categorization. Yet for the Healys, racial divisions continued to exist; theirs was to trade one racial identity for another. Reeve’s work illustrates that racial divisions were not reified in American society, but that Americans wanted them to be reified, and desperately so. They...

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Through the Valley: Theodicy and Black Suffering in America

Jul 01, 15 Through the Valley: Theodicy and Black Suffering in America

Posted by in Featured, Racism, Theology

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever. Psalm 23, 1 – 6   “You come against me with hatred and oppression and violence. I come against you in the name of God,” uttered organizer Bree Newsome, as she removed the Confederate battle flag from its place on the grounds of the South Carolina state house. A few moments later, as she was led away by the police, she began to recite Psalm 23 and 27. While there’s nothing particularly new about the use of Christian theology along with acts of civil disobedience, the calling upon the words and works of God hold a profound significance for black people in the United States; in the midst of mis-recognition, suffering and death by way of oppression. As black churches burn across the South coupled with the lack of reporting by mainstream news outlets, I can’t help but think  about the greatest trick the devil ever played: convincing us that he didn’t exist. During a lecture about theodicy, or the problem of evil, my philosophy professor once posited to the class that the devil did not exist. Now, perhaps you can imagine the reaction to a claim such as that in a room full of mostly first year, some post-first year, seminary students, many of whom were Christian theists. But the discussion that followed, a brief...

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Seeking Liberation

Dec 17, 14 Seeking Liberation

Posted by in Featured

A Gospel of Liberation. A Gospel about liberation. That’s what I need. That’s what I seek. That’s why Church is hard for me sometimes. It can be so individualistic in ways that feel imprisoning to me. I need a gospel that is collective… in voice and in action. I need a collectively liberating Gospel after the tsunamis, earthquakes, hurricanes, and tornadoes. I need a gospel that is active in liberating people from captivity, and most importantly, allowing people to name their captors. Especially if I am one of them or complicit in their captivity. Liberation is not comfortable when you are part of the captors. Naming captors is a key element in naming pain, shame, and finding the freedom necessary to be. To move into and through transformative change – conversion, if you will – a chance to be whole. There are times that it feels splitting to be at Church. But, I come. And I stay. And I listen. And I continue to seek glimmers of freedom. Shimmers of liberation. I am not liberated by holding another captive by my ill-informed judgments, believing that it is righteous for me to judge any person beyond myself or those within my stewardship. I am not liberated by having my integrity challenged. I am not liberated by siblings in the gospel who promote fear over family or family bound by conditions. “I the Lord am bound when you do what I say…” He has said, “Love one another…” He has said, “Preach nothing but repentance….” I’ve often wondered what was there to repent about in the 1830s and 40s, of American and British Culture? What was so widespread that everybody needed to be involved in repentance whenever a missionary approached? We hadn’t fully hit industrialization because our industry was still slavery. Imagine God asking for repentance during times of chattel slavery and indentured servitude?  It’s never happened in my Sunday school lessons, and these days, if it isn’t correlated, it isn’t preached, it seems. “But when...

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The Dance of Dissonance

“I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.”   James A. Baldwin   Have you ever wondered what it would be like to make the body of Christ vomit? Have you ever wondered how it would feel to be so dizzy with dissonance, to be so overcome with vertigo, that there is no stabilizing force to lean upon to steady the swirl of rising acid produced by the Body’s eyes communicating to the Body’s brain that up is down and down is up? That we are mentally, physically, and spiritually unhealthy? I wonder if clinging to our hates make the Body of Christ nauseous? I wonder if our fears – of failure, failing our Parents, failing each other – make the room spin fast enough so that we forget how sometimes, we, too, are in the spacious building pointing fingers of scorn amidst a cacophony of laughter, “at least I’m not like you!” At least we’re not like them. Who are they? Are we them? Those who point from windows and those to whom we point. Are we dizzy when we see how easy it is to defend the pride fueling one act – or many acts – of patriotic defiance? When we charge a large system as adamantly crooked and we see that cows become victim to desert turtles and bureaucracy? Where we righteously attack and invalidate the legal process of the courts and its decisions. We see them as woefully invalid, biased, unfair, or tyrannical, even. We say, not in our country! No longer! We stand for truth and righteousness. We stand in defense of a brother. We look over to the spacious building aghast as we defend the pride and the dignity of the small town farmer, his meager resources, his humble beginnings, his “product of his times” comments. We stand to protect him against a system weighted to shame one...

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17: Darius Gray and The Priesthood/Temple Ban

Aug 11, 14 17: Darius Gray and The Priesthood/Temple Ban

Posted by in Featured, Mormonism, Podcast, Priesthood

Podcast: Play in new window | Download Subscribe: iTunes | Android | RSS I was lucky enough to hear Darius speak this past winter at BYU. In his presentation he went over the new Gospel Topics “Race and the Priesthood”.  It was very interesting to hear his point of view and also the process of how this article was produced from a person that was involved and featured in this article. Have a listen. I hope you enjoy it. From his wikipedia page: Darius Gray is an African-American Latter-day Saint speaker and writer. Gray was born in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) in the mid-1960s and then attended Brigham Young University for a year. After that he transferred to the University of Utah. Gray worked for a time as a journalist. Gray was a counselor in the presidency of the LDS Church’s Genesis Group when it was formed in 1971. He was president of the group from 1997 to 2003. Gray was also the co-director (with Marie Taylor) of the Freedmens Bank Records project for the church’s Family History Department. He is a speaker on African-American genealogy, blacks in the Bible and blacks in the LDS Church. He had also written a trilogy of historical novels (“Standing on the Promises”) with Margaret Blair Young, and co-produced/directed a documentary with Young as well: “Nobody Knows: The Untold Story of Black Mormons.” Utah’s NAACP honored him with its Martin Luther King Jr. award in 2008, and the Iota Iota chapter of Omega Psi Phi fraternity honored him as “Citizen of the Year” in 2011. Gray has traveled throughout the United States to make presentations. In 2007, he appeared in the PBS documentary The Mormons. In February 2008, he made an invitation-only presentation at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit that was partly sponsored by New Detroit. He is also featured in the BYU Television series Questions and Ancestors. Gray has also...

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Injustice in a Just World

I have always clung to the idea that the vast majority of people are basically good. At the same time, a look at history or the news makes quite clear that even good people are capable of doing some pretty horrible things.  Why is this? Back in the 1960s a psychologist, Dr. Marvin Lerner, became disturbed by the tendency for the healthcare workers in his field, who he knew to be good and decent people, to deride and blame patients with mental illness for their own problems.  He wanted to research more about why they might do this.  He ran an experiment where subjects were asked to observe 2 people as one of them was chosen at random to receive an reward for a task.  They were then asked to rate the character traits of the 2 people and discovered they consistently rated the recipient of the reward more favorably even when they saw the reward was given randomly.  He then did an experimental riff on the experiments of Stanley Milgram, which fellow permablogger Geoff Nelson wrote about here on this blog not long ago.  Dr. Lerner had 72 women subjects observe a fake victim being administered electrical shocks under a variety of conditions.  Initially, these women were upset by the apparent suffering.  However, the longer the fake shocks continued, eventually a the subjects began to disparage the victim.  The disparagement was more when the suffering appeared greater.  The sight of an innocent person suffering without possibility of reward or compensation motivated people to devalue the attractiveness of the victim in order to bring about a more appropriate fit between her fate and her character.  When the subjects were told that the victim was to be compensated for her suffering they stopped the disparaging remarks.  In order to explain these results Dr. Lerner came up with the idea of the “Just World Hypothesis.” The basic idea is that people will often make judgements in the face of injustice that convince themselves that no injustice occurred. People have a strong tendency to believe the world...

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